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A ‘knockout punch from God’ claims great man

I don’t remember the first time I met John Mattox, but by the time I was 8 years old or so, I knew exactly who he was — a Union Local Board of Education member, an area businessman, father of two children who attended Flushing Elementary where my mother taught and the kind of person you could count on.

Over the years, the person John was — and my relationship with him — evolved. By the time I graduated from college and started to teach in local public and private schools, John had retired from his insurance business and founded the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing with his beloved wife, the late Rosalind L. Stewart Mattox, who was better known as “Rozz.” I then got to see John in action, making presentations to students, showing them shackles that had once bound slaves and making sure that they understood the real human impact of various aspects of the history he so loved. Once I even took a group of Olney Friends School students to his museum to help clean up after a water pipe froze and burst. They happily labored for him as he shared stories of our past.

Then, when I became a journalist, I got to see many other sides of this complex, compassionate man. I watched as he served on various boards, raised money for good causes and made wishes come true for ailing children and their families.

It’s my belief that it wasn’t possible to merely work with John. Instead, it seems that everyone who got the chance to know him became his friend. John was always there to cheer me on when I received a promotion or achieved some accomplishment. He was also there when each of my parents died, lending his ear, his wisdom and his unwavering support.

John had a sort of quiet strength that let you know everything would be all right. And if you weren’t quite ready to face whatever challenge was presenting itself, you could lean on John until you were.

Dr. John S. Mattox was born June 22, 1935, in Raleigh, North Carolina. His mother died when he was very young, and his cousin, Susie, and her husband, Henry Mattox, adopted John. During his funeral on Saturday, John’s son, John Jr., said he believed it was Susie’s act of graciousness in taking John in and raising him as her own that was “the catalyst for his huge heart.”

John did, indeed, have a big heart. He was always helping others and serving as many sectors of the community as he could. John was a longtime member of the Ohio University Eastern Campus Coordinating Council, co-chairman of the university’s African American Cultural Committee, and funded an annual non-restricted $500 scholarship to the Eastern Campus. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate of public service from Ohio University, and in 2016 he received the Austin C. Furbee Award from the Eastern Campus.

John was a U.S. Air Force veteran, serving during the Korean War but not in Korea. In 2016, he was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, which recognizes those who honorably served in the military and continued to serve and inspire throughout their lives after discharge.

One way he performed that community service was as founder and president of the local chapter of A Special Wish Foundation, an organization for which Mattox also served as national chairman.

John also continued his service with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7342 and American Legion Post 366 in Flushing. He was named a Belmont County Tourism Person of the Year, a West Virginia Education Association’s Effie Mayhan Brown Award winner and a Community Builder Award recipient in the communities of Steubenville and Flushing.

John was a board member for Harrison Community Hospital, Belmont County Correctional Institution Community Board, Sargus Juvenile Detention Center, and Bank One in Wheeling.

Mattox spearheaded the local area’s inaugural Juneteenth Celebration, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, a few years ago and served as speaker at that same celebration in Wheeling just last month, a few days prior to his 84th birthday.

In 2018, Gov. John Kasich appointed John to the Ohio Advisory Council for Aging for a term that was to end Nov. 21, 2021.

The Underground Railroad Museum he and Rozz founded contains more than 30,000 items related to the Underground Railroad and slavery. Keys to slave pens, books, reward posters, slave collars, bills of sale and maps from the trans-Atlantic slave trade are included in the collection. The museum also acquired the Benjamin Lundy House in St. Clairsville in 2016, preserving the abolitionist’s home for posterity.

In 2013, the book “A Museum for Generations to Come, A gift from Rozz and Dr. John Mattox,” was written by Beni-Kofi Amedekanya. It explored their lives and their drive to educate people about local and national history.

John is survived by John Jr. and his wife, Jennifer; and by daughter Suzanne (named for “Mother Susie”) and her husband, James Evans; as well as grandchildren Hillarie and Camille Mattox and Courtney and James Evans Jr.

Rozz suffered through a long illness before her death, but John died rather suddenly, having a stroke on Monday and passing away on Wednesday. His friend and museum board colleague, Michael McCormick, spoke at John’s funeral Saturday. He said John had told him, “When I die, I want a knockout punch from God that Muhammad Ali would be jealous of.” McCormick believes John’s prayers were answered.

John’s death is a tremendous loss to our community. But he laid the groundwork for the rest of us to carry on with his various important missions. He also inspired many of us to be kind, patient, thoughtful, hard-working and generous.

On behalf of John, I will share with all of you one of the things he said nearly every time we spoke: “Have a blessed day.”

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