William C. Cox Jr. dies at 82; helped seal Dow Jones sale to Murdoch

William C. Cox Jr., the patriarch of the Bancroft clan that controlled Dow Jones & Co. for 105 years and sold it to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in a decision sparking a family feud, died Wednesday at his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., according to his daughter, Ann Bartram. He was 82.

The cause was complications from diabetes.

Cox was at the center of a protracted family dispute that ultimately led to the sale of New York-based Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal, to News Corp. in 2007. A former executive and board member with Dow Jones, Cox eventually supported Murdoch’s $5.2-billion takeover bid after initially rejecting it.

He, along with his wife and children, controlled about 8% of the shareholder vote at the time, and his change in position represented the first big crack in the family bloc that opposed Murdoch.


After the News Corp. chairman made an offer, Cox, along with his sister Jane Cox MacElree, created a family coalition to make sure the Journal wouldn’t fall into Murdoch’s hands. The media billionaire was seen as someone who favored the brash, tawdry news style common to many British tabloids such as New Corp.'s Sun newspaper and the News of the World, which he shut down in 2011 following a phone-hacking scandal.

Murdoch, whose New York-based company also owns the New York Post, took a step toward acquiring Dow Jones when he agreed to the Bancroft family’s demand for a guarantee protecting the Journal’s editorial independence.

The far-flung Bancroft clan splintered under pressure from the deal. Parents fought with their children as they debated the offer, which was about 65% more than the value of the company’s stock before the proposal.

Just hours before a deadline for the family’s 2007 vote on the transaction, Cox went into diabetic shock and was admitted to a hospital, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Cox never publicly made clear why he changed his mind and agreed to sell the Journal.

William Coburn Cox Jr. was born Nov. 8, 1930, in Boston to Jessie Bancroft and William Coburn Cox. His mother was a granddaughter of Clarence Barron, who in 1902 paid $130,000 for Dow Jones, which had been founded 20 years earlier by Charles Dow and Eddie Jones. Cox’s father worked in the Journal’s Boston office.

Cox earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Boston University and served in the U.S. Air Force. He began his 40-year career at Dow Jones in 1957 in the circulation department. In 1971 he transferred to Detroit to become Midwestern advertising sales director and in 1982 moved to London as head of business relations to help start the Journal’s European edition, his daughter said.

Cox returned to the U.S. around 1995 as director of client relations until retiring in 2000.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Martha Whiting Cox; four children, 10 grandchildren, and his sister.