Sharing some sad news, Mrs. Irene Cox, a friend of mine, passing away today. In 2008, I was in McDonald’s on Flatbush Avenue, off Avenue R. A woman who I had seen there before, with the warmest smile and such beautiful eyes, saw the stars on my white shirt under my windbreaker. She asked me if I were NYPD. When I told her I was she was so proud to tell me about her grandson Paul, who was a police officer in the 70 Precinct. That chat was the beginning of 13 years of friendship. Mrs. Cox lived in the Vandeveer housing complex in Flatbush and she loved taking the bus to McDonald’s. She went there almost every day and would spend a couple of hours sitting there after eating her hotcakes and sausage, with lots of extra syrup. She called McDonald’s, “my office.” Even after I stopped eating fast food I still enjoyed my weekly visits and I loved sitting with her. I was so interested in her stories of growing up as a little girl in the south. Some of the things she shared with me, particularly the segregation that she experienced as a little girl, really struck me. She became my biggest publicist, stopping every police officer she saw throughout the borough of Brooklyn asking them, “Do you know Chief Fox?”
She rode the buses so frequently that every bus driver knew her. As the depot was only a couple of blocks away, the bus drivers were regularly in the restaurant. I loved seeing them engage with her when they were in McDonald’s, always so happy to see her. She referred to the buses as, “MTA, going my way.”
She chose to spend her 80th birthday in McDonald’s. Her family joined her. I set up a surprise visit through her grandson Paul. I picked up a birthday cake from a nearby Carvel. When I was getting out of my car with the cake I saw some firefighters in front of the fire house across the street. I invited them to join me. As the seven firefighters and I crossed the street to go to McDonald’s I told them how whenever she sees the truck pull out of the fire house she always says, “I pray that they come back in the same shape they were when they left.” One of them said to me, “Chief, you don’t have to sell us on this.” And I knew I did not. They were very happy to be part of the surprise 80th birthday party for Irene.
Irene would spend every birthday at McDonald’s. She considered the people who worked their family and they felt the same about her. They made her birthdays special by putting a tablecloth on her favorite table with flowers at a sign that read, “This table is reserved for Miss Irene.” If she hadn’t shown up for a few days they would call her to check on her. And then when she could no longer get to McDonald’s supervisors Edgar Casco and Widniel Theagene would check on her by phone regularly and sometimes bring McDonald’s to her home.
Our friendship extend it to the members of my staff. She would call the office frequently as they would call her. In our phone calls she would often say, “Some people have a home assistant, but you are my phone assistant.” She journaled everything in her little book. Frequently she would refer back to the surprise party and tell me how much she enjoyed it. About two years ago she needed to be in a nursing home and she wound up in Woodmere, Nassau. I enjoyed visiting her there and when I did what did I bring? McDonald’s! But sadly those visits stopped early last year because of the pandemic.
I then spoke with her by phone, but I was sad that the engagement she enjoyed in the nursing home, sitting in the day room with the other residents, the visits from family, had ended. My parents and grandparents are not with me anymore so this was my experience with what so many families are suffering with, not being able to be there with their loved ones in their final days. Fortunately, Irene‘s family got to see her last Thursday.
Through our phone calls I could tell her health was declining, but she seemed at peace with it. She spoke with a sense of pride and accomplishment making it to be 91 years old. And every conversation she thanked me for always remembering her, and every time she said that I would tell her that she is memorable, she is stuck with me and I love her.
Today I called her at about 12:30 in the afternoon. I told her that I was remembering her daughter Jacqueline, who died on this day at 45 years old in 1999. She could barely speak but she sounded comfortable. In the few words she could say she actually thanked me again for calling her. She is a woman who lived a life of gratitude and love, for sure. I could hear the voice of someone from the nursing home attending to her in the background and Irene asked me if I could call her back a bit later. I called her at 2 PM and she picked up but did not speak. I knew she could hear me because I could hear her breath. I thanked her for our 13 years of friendship and for her place in my life. I told her that I hope she is in peace. And I told her that I love her.
Irene Cox died one hour later at 3 PM. Irene joins her daughter Jacqueline on the same day of the year Jacqueline passed away. It comforts me that I was able to tell her I love her just before.
And so it is true that you don’t have to have a big title to make a huge impact. You don’t need to make a speech before thousands of people or have millions of followers on Twitter to make a difference in peoples lives. You just need to bring your humanity and your love everywhere you go. That’s what Irene did. She made an impact on people her whole life, and from a table in a McDonald’s restaurant in Brooklyn she touched me deeply. God bless her.