Out of Africa
Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, is a country situated in the southern portion of Africa. While it is beautiful, being home of Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and many wildlife parks and reserves, it is a country that is riddled with poverty, governmental problems and sanctions. As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, Jill Cox never new there was any other way of life. "It was life in its simplest form. It's all about sport. You never knew what you were missing," said Jill as we sat together in Bluffton for a lunch of crab cakes, one of her favorite foods. While she describes her childhood as a "gift from God", she is also very realistic about the conditions of her homeland, both then and now.
Jill told me that as a young girl she was afraid to walk down the hall alone during the night. I thought that was quite common until she told me why. I was surprised when she revealed that she was afraid of a hand grenade being thrown into the hall and of robbers. Sadly, her fears were not unwarranted, as the people of Zimbabwe had to travel in armed convoys when travelling between cities. "If you didn't, you would never survive it," she explained. To this day, her parents, who still reside in Zimbabwe, go without electricity and water sometimes up to eight hours a day. "They never know when it's going to go out."
Like life in general, growing up in Zimbabwe had it ups and downs. "Africa's in your soul, but it's family that I miss, not Africa," Jill reflected. As we continued to talk, I learned about the good people of Zimbabwe -her parents, friends, and extended family. I also learned that she met her husband, Gavin, when she was only 12-years-old. He was from South Africa and they met during a tennis tournament. She was impressed with his "great manners and politeness". But there was one thing that convinced her that he had to be hers. "He would give other girls chocolate. He was a guy after my own heart, so I convinced him that I should be the girl receiving the chocolate!" They started dating when she was 16.
Once married, in 1980, the Cox's started their life together running a small hotel together in South Africa. By this point, Jill was a trained Cordon Bleu Chef. Gavin was the manager. The hotel was a 20-room inn that catered to the DeBeers Mining Company. "One day, I served lunch to Harry Oppenheimer. The entire town nearly came to a standstill," exclaimed Jill, as she remembered the former chairman of the Anglo-American Company and one of the richest men in the world. While working around the world of diamonds may seem fascinating, Jill Cox's life adventure had not even begun.
It was 1982 when Gavin was beckoned by Van Der Meer Tennis Academy to come to America for summer work. Neither of them had ever imagined living in America. "I didn't even know there were real yellow school buses or cop cars. I saw those things in the movies, but never thought they were real. I just thought it was made up for the movies," Jill said. The two of them were the first out of both families to leave Africa. Their parents encouraged them to go and find a better life; and that's exactly what they did.
Jill shared a funny story with me, showing how new she and Gavin were to the lay of the land in America back then. They had a week off from work, so they decided to visit friends in Buffalo, NY, tour San Francisco and Colorado and return to Hilton Head.all via Greyhound Bus.all in seven days! They made it to Buffalo and back, realizing that maybe America was a little larger than they thought.
Since settling in Hilton Head now for almost 30 years, Jill and Gavin are back to running a hotel. They call it "Hotel Cox". It is their home where they welcome many close friends and loved-ones as they visit from around the world. "They come ready to shop! Sometimes they come with a large suitcase with only one change of clothes." That way they can buy new things and take it all home with them.
August 3, 2007 is a date that neither of the Cox's will ever forget; it is the day that they both became United States Citizens. "My citizenship is so important. I could never vote until then. I was too young in Zimbabwe. One of our friends arranged for the American flag to fly in our honor above the Capital in Washington, D.C. on the day our citizenship was official. I am amazed at the generosity of American spirit." Yes, Africa is in her soul, but America is in her heart!
Family: Husband Gavin, two daughters, Kristin, 27, and Terri, 24.
Career: Assistant to the GM at Moss Creek for 18 years.
Zimbabwe terms that don't quite fit in: When she was a tennis coach she would yell, "Time to stop 'knocking up.'" She meant that the team needed to get serious.
When she wrecked her car: She had no clue where to get it fixed. She was looking for a "panel beating" shop to no avail, and she thought a "body shop" was a strip club.
New adventure: Husband Gavin is currently building "The Tennis Club of the Lowcountry" in Rose Hill Plantation.
Hidden talent: She loves cake decorating and makes specialized flowers with gum paste.
Final words: If we would treat everyone the way we want to be treated, imagine the difference that would make!