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On Oct. 13, Ouida Cox, the legendary editor of the Arkansas Living magazine, posted her final “-30-”—the symbol used by journalists to signify the end of their story.
She passed away at her Little Rock home at the age of 98.
“Ouida Cox is an Arkansas treasure and was a pioneer for journalists within the electric cooperative family,” said Rob Roedel, director of corporate communications for Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. “Her dedication to serving ‘her people’ in rural Arkansas coupled with her charming personality resulted in an irreplaceable legend in the communications field.”
“Miss Ouida,” as she was affectionately called, began her co-op career in 1949 as one of four employees of the statewide association. As associate editor, she was responsible for the publication’s “Women’s Department,” which then included recipes and dress patterns readers could order.
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In 1968, she took over as editor, a position she would hold for 44 years, until her retirement in 2012.
She watched the magazine grow from less than 20,000 readers to more than 383,000, the largest circulation of any publication in the state.
In her 63 years of electric co-op service, she helped produce nearly 800 issues of Rural Arkansas and Arkansas Living magazine. For many years, she was solely responsible for the magazine’s writing, editing, photography, page design and shepherding pages through final production.
She was fearless in her coverage, traveling countless miles alone down gravel roads and often finding stories by knocking on doors where she knew her readers could be found.
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“I have always tried to remember that the magazine is first and foremost for the members, those people out there at the end of the line,” she related in a 2012 story on her retirement in Arkansas Living.
Beyond her magazine duties, she often demonstrated the proper use of home appliances and lighting at annual meetings, calling on her education in art, home economics and chemistry at what was then the Arkansas State Teachers College.
She served as a mentor for many fledgling co-op communicators over the years. Her favorite line when meeting a new statewide editor was to tell them, “Sit down. You’ve got a lot to learn.”
Miss Ouida made a profound impact on the statewide editors who worked with her.
“Ouida was a trailblazer, a pioneer, an icon, an institution and a role model for women pursuing careers in journalism,” says Emily Schilling, editor of Indiana Connection magazine. “She was a consummate professional and a one-woman show, doing whatever it took to publish Arkansas Living and its forerunner, Rural Arkansas. Not only that, her kindness, conversation and wit made her a joy to be around.”
In her final years at the statewide association, Miss Ouida tended to the massive body of work she left behind, identifying and organizing the thousands of photographs she shot, many with the classic Speed Graphic camera she was issued when she joined the staff. Those included photos of 11 presidents, countless lawmakers, dignitaries and pioneers of the electric cooperative movement.
While those who followed her can read about the history of the program, she lived it and blazed a path for others to follow.
“She … was such a spark for the statewide editors group,” said Mona Neely, editor of Colorado Country Life. “I was in awe of her long career and all that she had seen and done in the electric industry.”
Jim McCarty is editor of Rural Missouri magazine and vice president of communications for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.