Paying tribute to Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering founder, former dean

By Carla Nelson

Published: May 27, 2021 2:00:00 PM

Grady Cox played a vital role in building what the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering is today. Grady Cox played a vital role in building what the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering is today.

A celebration of life was recently held for former Dean Grady Cox who passed away on May 15, 2021, at the age of 94. Cox played a vital role in building what the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering is today.

Cox served two terms as dean of the School of Engineering and also spent several years in Auburn’s central administration office serving as executive vice president.

In March of 1948, Cox graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API) with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering. After a year of employment in the private sector, Cox returned to API to earn a Master of Science in mathematics in 1950 while also serving as an instructor. After teaching for an additional year, Cox accepted a job at the Air Proving Grounds at Eglin Air Force Base.

Grady-Cox.jpgCox later pursued preliminary work on a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill until 1955 and then returned to Eglin. He was later hired as an associate professor in Auburn’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1958. Soon after, Fred Pumphrey was named dean of engineering and encouraged Cox to attend Purdue on a National Science Foundation fellowship. He earned a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Purdue in 1963 and was appointed as head professor of the Department of Industrial Management at Auburn, from which he developed Industrial Engineering.

In an interview with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Communications and Marketing in 2015, Cox described how he assisted Dean Pumphrey in building what is now known as the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

“Dean Pumphrey was one of the members of a committee charged with bringing the School of Engineering back on course when several programs lost accreditation in 1957,” Cox explained. “Working with the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development [now ABET – Ed.] we developed a sound program in math, chemistry and physics along with a humanities core. In terms of the industrial management curriculum, we bulked up the math component and made some other changes that strengthened its base in engineering, and it became industrial engineering. We had to build a new faculty as well, and over time we did just that.”

Cox preceded Pumphrey as dean from 1969-72, and served as dean again from 1979-80. Cox also served Auburn University as director of the Engineering Experiment Station and director of Engineering Extension Service. He served as vice president of Auburn University from 1980-84 and retired as a full professor Auburn in 1992. Cox said nothing thrilled him more than teaching as a full professor.

“I have always enjoyed teaching, I have always enjoyed the students and I have always enjoyed the classroom,” Cox said in the 2015 interview. “When you open the door to a student’s perception, when you see the light come on in their eyes – nothing beats it. It’s just the best job.”

John Evans, current chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (pictured with Cox above), was a student of Cox’s statistics class in 1981.

“I remember him being very fair and nice, and also pretty hard,” Evans said, adding that he first met him as an Auburn employee when the department invited Cox to speak at the Graduate Student Seminar in 2020. “He was very nice and very gracious. I remember that he was very sharp and did a great job presenting at the seminar. I really enjoyed spending time with him. He was a class act.”

Read Cox’s full obituary here.

Media Contact: Carla Nelson,, 334-740-0221

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