By Anthony Alongi, Loyola Student News Service
A small group of people gathered at St. George’s Episcopal Church earlier this month to celebrate the life of somebody they barely knew, yet all held dear.
On July 4, Roechelle Cox died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. After her death, no family could be found to take over the rights to her remains to make funeral arrangements. With her next of kin listed as her current employer, CVS, there was no way of paying for a funeral and her body was held at the coroner’s office for the next several months.
When Margaret McDaniel, who knew Cox from her job as a cashier at CVS on Prytania Street, found out about Cox’s death and the fruitless attempts at locating family by the coroner’s office, she decided to do something about it. McDaniel and others hired an attorney to obtain the rights to Cox’s body and started a GoFundMe page to raise money for a memorial service.
In about four weeks, enough money was raised to pay to have Cox’s body cremated, run an obituary, and buy flowers for the service. Half of the money left over from the GoFundMe was paid to the lawyer while the other half was donated to Zeus’ Place on Freret Street, a pet grooming and boarding business that often takes in homeless animals. Zeus’ place was picked because of Cox’s love for animals.
“It’s the right thing to do. Every human being deserves this kind of decency. It’s the least we could do,” McDaniel said.
On Saturday, Dec. 3, the atmosphere inside St. George’s was cheery and light-hearted as about 20 people filed in and took their seats. Laughter echoed through the building as people exchanged stories about the departed. The brief service came to a close after a humorous and heartfelt sermon from the priest and everybody headed downstairs for refreshments where the upbeat conversations continued about the stranger that united them all.
“She would forget my daughter’s name but she would never forget my dog’s name,” said McCaleb Bilbro, a regular at Zara’s Little Giant Supermarket on Prytania Street, where Cox worked before CVS.
Cox worked as a cashier at Zara’s shortly after moving from Colorado to New Orleans in 2013 and then later at the CVS on Prytania Street. Cox, 51, delighted customers with her joyful outlook and high-spirited personality.
“She was the kind of employee that we love to have,” Albert Zara, owner of Zara’s, said. “She really took it to the next level with our customers. … Everyone liked her and she was a great employee. I know she had no family so I couldn’t be happier with the way that everyone came together and how it turned out.”
Shell Wells shopped at the CVS where Cox worked and occasionally ran into her around the neighborhood while walking her dogs.
“Roechelle was just a happy person. She always made sure to say hello even she was running late for work. She would make sure to come over and give me a quick hug before she went on her way,” Wells said.
Cox left behind her beloved dog, Lily, a pug-beagle mix and Wells said it was a great feeling knowing that Lily was being cared for.
“I was just so relieved to know that Lily was being taken care of. That was her baby,” Wells said.
David Wohlgemuth, Cox’s neighbor, said he would often wonder how she always managed to stay so happy every day.
“I just wish I had her energy. She was always so joyful. Always had something nice to say to you,” Wohlgemuth said. “The world needs more of that.”
The Loyola Student News Service features reporters from advanced-level journalism classes at Loyola University New Orleans, directed by faculty advisers.