She was 31 years old, and her colleagues described her as one of the warmest, most personable and most energetic individuals at Brandeis. Her coaches noted that she was a fantastic, graceful, all-around athlete who was a leader on the lacrosse field. Her family called her an absolute super human. Sadly, on Thursday, Feb. 12, Brandeis Athletics Department Coordinator Vanessa Cox was killed in a car crash in Milton, N.H. According to New Hampshire State Police, Cox was the passenger of a 2009 Subaru Outback that was struck by a 2005 Jeep Liberty swerving into oncoming traffic on Route 16. The Jeep’s driver, Victoria Rose, 57, was pronounced dead at the scene, and Allison Smith, 31, driver of the Subaru, died later that evening, according to a Feb. 13 article in The Boston Globe. Two other passengers sustained serious injuries but were in stable condition by the next day, and a small dog in the Jeep was put to sleep because of injuries, according to the same Boston Globe article.
A native of Newton, Cox leaves her mother, Micheline; her father, Vincent; her brother, Brandon; and her paternal grandparents, Jean and Jim of Taunton.
Her brother noted in the Feb. 13 Globe article that Cox was an “animal whisperer.” She was a lover of all animals, but her brother said that dogs and cats in particular had her heart. She was a strong supporter of Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and the nonprofit Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The day after Cox’s death, the Office of Communications sent an email to the Brandeis community.
“We are all shocked and saddened by this news,” wrote Sheryl Sousa ’90, associate vice president of health and wellness and director of athletics, physical education and recreation at Brandeis. “Vanessa was such a vital member of the Brandeis family.”
On Tuesday evening, Feb. 24, a memorial was held in Cox’s honor in Gosman Athletic Center. Members of the Brandeis community, including students, administrators and coaches, spoke about her positive attitude and the high level of energy that she brought to the school.
Two students, Annie Cui ’15 and Heather Barash ’16, got to know Cox particularly well through the club women’s lacrosse program. Their group started out as six girls with varying levels of playing ability, and when Cox came to Brandeis, she not only offered to help coach the team but made a tremendous effort to help each player improve.
“Right away, Vanessa set high expectations for the team because she wanted us to realize the same potential that she saw in us,” Cui said. “Vanessa always came with a practice plan and took the time to prepare drills whether we had four or 14 girls.”
Barash had never played lacrosse before coming to Brandeis, but she spoke about how Cox was persistent about helping her learn.
“When she found out that I had zero experience with the sport, she insisted on teaching me,” Barash said. “She basically spent the entire first practice trying to get me to just catch a ball. Vanessa convinced me to come back and keep trying … She truly had the patience of a saint.”
Barash also spoke about how Cox tried to make every practice fun and how she tried to get to know all of the players on a personal level.
“Vanessa was always positive, sunny, bright, cheerful and caring … always looking out for each of the girls and investing not only in our lacrosse skills but in our personal lives in a genuine way,” Barash said.
Prior to joining the Brandeis community, Cox was the women’s lacrosse coach at MIT for four seasons, during which she compiled a 36-26 record with the team. She was named the first ever NEWMAC Coach of the Year in 2008. In an article from The Boston Globe on Feb. 18, Cox’s colleagues from MIT speak about her presence as a coach on campus.
“She was like a breath of fresh air,” said MIT Head Field Hockey Coach Cheryl Silva, who was head women’s lacrosse coach when Ms. Cox was hired. “She brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our program and really connected with the players.”
Cox graduated from the University of Vermont in 2005 with a B.A. in political science and from Northeastern University in 2011 with an M.S. in sports leadership. While at UVM, Cox was a leading scorer for the women’s lacrosse team setting program records for career points (173) and goal scoring (133).
“She will go down in history as one of the all-time greats in Vermont women’s lacrosse,” Jen Johnson, Cox’s lacrosse coach at UVM, told The Globe in 2005.
In addition to her collegiate lacrosse career, Cox competed for the Canadian National Women’s Lacrosse Team, and in the 2009 and 2013 Lacrosse World Cups.
In an email she wrote in 2009 about playing in the World Cup in Prague, she said: “Competing at this level has been my dream for over five years now, and I can’t believe the time has finally come to put the years of hard work, sprint workouts, wall ball and lifting to use.”
Cox’s funeral was held on Wednesday, Feb. 18 in Grace Episcopal Church in Newton.
“She never neglected anything in her life,” her brother said in the Feb. 13 Globe article. “If something was difficult for me or my mother, she would pick us up and help us plow through it, while at the same time being a high-quality competitor on the field and off the field. It was really something to watch.”