By T. Scott Boatright
It was a big night for the Ruston Lincoln Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night as it held its 101st annual Chamber Awards Banquet at the Lincoln Parish Events Center.
But it was Cathi Cox-Boniol, who was awarded the 2020 Robert E. Russ Award, the highest honor given by the Chamber for community advancement, who let the crowd in attendance know that it was also a historic night.
“Someone slipped me a little piece of information today,” Cox said during her award acceptance speech. “My father (Bill Cox) and I are getting to share a little history, because for the first time in history, a parent and child have now won the Louisiana Tech Alumni Association Alumnus of the Year and the Russ Award. And I get to do that with my daddy, and that makes me prouder than anything ever before.”
The crowd then rose to a standing ovation.
Bill Cox was the 2001 winner of the Chamber’s Robert E. Russ Award.
During the speech Cox-Boniol explained the special relationship she and her father have.
“I am Bill Cox. I own it. I know that,” Cox-Boniol said. “”One day way back when I was at Woodard Hall on the Tech campus headed down to the dean’s office and way back behind me somebody said, “You have got to be Bill Cox’s daughter. I didn’t know who that person was, but I said, ‘You better believe I am.’ That’s something I’ve always been proud of …
“He’s influenced me in play. He’s influenced me in service. And he’s influenced me in loving people. He has infused in me his joy, his optimism, his faith and his hope for the future. I’m not standing here today without Bill Cox, because you better believe, I am his daughter.:
Cox-Boniol was then quick to remember her mother, Minette Cox, too.
“But I’m not standing here without Ms. Minette (either),” Cox-Boniol said. “It had to be really scary for my mom to realize I was following along in my dad’s footsteps. But my mom, who put the “steel” in “Steel Magnolia” — my mom saw ME. She saw that I was going to take a non-traditional path. That I was going to be something different. And she let me be me. I can’t imagine a scarier thing for a mom. I’ve never had anybody cheer louder for me, support me, and my father, and believe in me, even when she didn’t understand me. I’m not standing here today without my mom. My parents are everything to me. They are who I am today. And I tell you, the world would be a different place if everybody had a Mr. Bill and a Ms. Minette in their corner.”
Cox-Boniol also thanked her husband Tom for helping her earn this award.
“He gets a great amount of credit — he chose this madness,” Cox-Boniol said. “I was born into it, but Tom chose it. For someone who said he had never found a community, he felt like he found Oz when he came (to Ruston). He has embraced this, and loved it, and he jumped right in there and gave me two extra legs and two extra hands, and Lord knows I need those. I’m so grateful to him for his willingness to do that.”
Cox-Boniol, a lifelong Ruston resident, spent 39 years serving the Lincoln Parish Schools system and is a longtime community advocate serving in Temple Baptist Church, The Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, The Louisiana Tech University Alumni Association, the North Central Louisiana Arts Council, Keep Lincoln Parish Beautiful, United Way of Northeast Louisiana, Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana, The Wellspring, Teach One to Lead One as well as other service initiatives.
Past Robert E. Russ Award Recipients:
• 1984 – Pam Love
• 1985 – John G. “Jack” Ritchie
• 1986 – Floyd B. James
• 1987 – William V. “Bill” Best
• 1988 – Clarence E. Faulk, Jr.
• 1989 – William A. Marbury, Jr.
• 1990 – Hale R. Shadow
• 1991 – Dr. Virgil Orr
• 1992 – James Davison
• 1993 – John E. Maxwell
• 1994 – W.A.J. Lewis II
• 1995 – Eddie Robinson
• 1996 – Robbie Willard
• 1997 – Lucius and Mildred McGehee
• 1998 – Walter Savage
• 1999 – Dr. Daniel Reneau
• 2000 – Travis Defreese
• 2001 – Bill Cox
• 2002 – Ruth Johnson
• 2003 – O. L. Waltman and L. D. “Buddy” Napper
• 2004 – Linda Graham
• 2005 – John Shealy
• 2006 – Bobby Price and John O’Neal
• 2007 – John F. Emory, Sr.
• 2008 – Tommy Folk
• 2009 – Dr. Les Guice
• 2010 – Benny Denny
• 2011 – Lynne Gnemi
• 2012 – Wayne Parker
• 2013 – Mayor Dan Hollingsworth
• 2014 – Drake Mills
• 2015 – Wilbert Ellis
• 2016 – Trott Hunt
• 2017 – JN Walpole
• 2018 – Kyle McDonald
• 2019 – Mary Ann Woods