First employee of UC Irvine oversaw building of campus

Times Staff Writer

Lavonne Edwin Cox, the first employee of UC Irvine, died Tuesday at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange of complications from a fall. He was 94.

L.E. Cox, as he was known, was appointed the university’s first vice chancellor of business and finance in 1963. But the former Army engineer’s work started when he was given the task of overseeing the construction of a UC campus on 1,000 acres of ranch land donated by the Irvine Co.

A colonel who spent 24 years in the Army Corps of Engineers, Cox helped build 24 air bases in the Pacific islands starting in World War II. He moved to Orange County from Washington, D.C., in 1961 to shepherd the construction of the university.

He first drove to work in a station wagon stuffed with office supplies and set up his desk in a second-floor bedroom of the Irvine Ranch house, which became a center of operations for planning the campus.


His son Allan Cox remembered his father as a soft-spoken, even-keeled leader who considered the construction of the Irvine campus one of his life’s great projects.

“The campus meant everything to him,” he said, recalling that as a teenager he would watch his father stand on a wooden platform on a knoll to survey what was then a vacant landscape of rolling hills.

Jean Aldrich, the widow of UCI’s first chancellor, Daniel Aldrich, said Cox worked with architects and planners to ensure that the campus’ classrooms and laboratories would fit the exact needs of each academic department.

“He was very precise and required expert workmanship,” she said. “He held everybody accountable so there was no funny business.”


Cox continued to supervise building, landscaping and other facilities projects for UC Irvine for 17 years. He cared for the campus’ well-being so much, his son said, that in the late 1960s he clashed with student protesters who opposed his plan to rid the campus of unsightly swallow droppings by removing the birds from campus with fire hoses.

His son said that every day at work, Cox would take a lunchtime walk around Ring Road, the path that runs through the heart of campus, to gaze at his life’s work.

A resident of Santa Ana, Cox was born on Nov. 18, 1913, in Florence, Ala. He was an ardent Republican who admired Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. After his retirement in 1978, he pursued his golf hobby, playing up to six times a week.

In addition to his son Allan, Cox is survived by his wife, Edna; another son, Stephen; and four grandchildren.


A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. today , at Saddleback Chapel, 220 E. Main St., Tustin.