James Cox, 90, psychiatrist who founded University City Swim Club

James Lee Dolan Cox-22092017-0006
James Lee Dolan Cox

James Lee Dolan Cox, 90, of West Philadelphia, a psychiatrist who led the staff of the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital and founded the University City Swim Club, died Tuesday, Sept. 12, at Bryn Mawr Hospital of diabetes.

Born June 16, 1927, in New York City, Dr. Cox moved as a child to Philadelphia, where his family traces its roots back to the mid-1600s. He was raised in Philadelphia and later in Ocean City, N.J.

With an older brother serving in the military during World War II, Dr. Cox entered Valley Forge Military Academy, Class of 1944, with the idea of receiving an appointment to West Point. Unable to do so, he went instead to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., arriving in 1945 as the war ended. Three years later, he transferred to Ursinus College to prepare for medical school.

At Ursinus, Dr. Cox went undefeated on the wrestling team, which he captained, and later competed in Olympic wrestling trials. He was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

In 1949, Dr. Cox graduated from Ursinus and became a medical student at what today is the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. As a student performing a gynecological exam, he was corrected by a nurse, Nancy Christie, who attempted to show him the correct way to do something. He argued back, as did she. They later had their first kiss on the front lawn of the hospital and married in 1953, the year he graduated.

Dr. Cox loved his work and cared deeply for his patients, son Lee said, remembering how he chose to work with some of the hardest-to-reach patients, especially juveniles diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoia, or depression.

Dr. Cox spent many years as chief of staff and president of the staff at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital and was proudest of his work with schizophrenia patients.

“He would really dive in and get into their skin and their soul and give them, I believe, confidence to live and to see that there was a better life for them,” one of his daughters, Christine, said.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Cox wanted to build a racially integrated swimming pool in University City, and after working with others to raise money, saw the University City Swim Club open in 1964. He went on to lead it for the next 35 years.

“There were lots of people who believed this would never get off the ground,” Dr. Cox told the Bulletin in a 1965 article that described him as “a handsome, tanned psychiatrist.”

He was also a founding member of the University City Arts League, a nonprofit arts advancement group. Dr. Cox loved the arts, particularly dance, said Christine Cox, who became a professional dancer and co-founded BalletX.

Dr. Cox loved travel and sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, sometimes scaring his family as he raced to outrun squalls.

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by daughters Linda and Barbara; son Eric; a brother; a sister; and eight grandchildren.

Services will be at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, at St. Mary’s, Hamilton Village,  3916 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, with a reception to follow.

Contributions may be made in memory of Dr. James L.D. Cox to BalletX,  265 S. Broad St., Philadelphia 19107 or submitted online at balletx.org/donate.