Barbara J. Smith-Cox, radio news director

Barbara J. Smith-Cox, a WNAV-AM news director, has died at 55.

Barbara J. Smith-Cox, news director of WNAV-AM in Annapolis who established a local chapter of Sisters Network, an African-American breast cancer survivors group, died of a cardiac arrest Nov. 14 at her Arnold home. She was 55.

"I am greatly saddened by the news of Barbara's unexpected passing," Annapolis Mayor Michael Pantelides said in a statement announcing Ms. Smith-Cox's death.

"Her vibrant spirit, coupled with her integrity and strong work ethic, made her stand out as a local media professional," he said. "I enjoyed working with her and will miss our remarkable conversations, as she always knew how to make the story intriguing. She will be sorely missed by many."

"I can tell you that we're a pretty small staff and a family, and this has hit us pretty hard. Her death was so unexpected," said Steve Hopp, station manager of WNAV.

"Her personality was captivating, and everyone who knew Barb loved her. I've heard from so many people," said Mr. Hopp. "She was a great representative of the radio station, and she touched a lot of lives as news director of WNAV and through her work with cancer survivors."

Barbara Jean Smith was born in Milford, Del., and raised in Bridgeville, Del., where she graduated in 1976 from Caesar Rodney High School.

She attended Delaware State University, where she studied broadcasting. In 1983, she moved to Tampa, Fla., and worked for nearly a decade as a car saleswoman for Royal Buick.

In the mid-1990s, she took a job at WTMP-AM in Tampa.

"She started as a secretary, and they liked her voice so much that they put her on the graveyard shift and then gave her a show," said her husband of 12 years, E. Lucien Cox Jr., operations manager for NASA's Applied Sciences Program.

Ms. Smith-Cox, who was known on the air as "Barbara Cox," soon became a well-known radio personality playing rhythm-and-blues records.

After their marriage, she and her husband moved to Maryland in 2002.

She began working as an on-air substitute on WNAV in 2005. In 2009, she was promoted to news anchor and in 2011 to news director. She had not retired at the time of her death.

"We first met Barbara at an Anne Arundel Community College jobs fair," recalled Mr. Hopp. "We hired her part time at first and then moved [her] to the news department and finally as news director."

He described Ms. Smith-Cox has having an "awesome voice."

"She had a very smooth presentation and a good tenor in her voice," he said.

Rhonda Wardlaw trained Ms. Smith-Cox when she first came to WNAV.

"It was such a pleasure working with Barbara, and she always made you feel important. She was such an optimistic person, and we had the best time," said Ms. Wardlaw, who is now the Annapolis city spokeswoman.

"And after I moved on to other jobs, our paths continued to cross. In her heart, she was always a journalist, and what I admired about her was her integrity," said Ms. Wardlaw. "She wanted to tell stories. Now, I didn't always agree with how they turned out, but I knew they would be told fairly. That's what I respected most about Barbara."

A breast cancer survivor, Ms. Smith Cox established an Anne Arundel County chapter of Sisters Network, a national African-American breast cancer survivors organization.

She had emceed a forum on cancer survival for patients and their families at Anne Arundel Medical Center the evening before her death.

"She'd always put on her game face when she was going through her chemotherapy treatments and the loss of her hair," said Mr. Hopp. "She still remained the positive person she always was."

Ms. Smith-Cox enjoyed walking and this month had completed the Across the Bay 10K on the Bay Bridge as a walker, her husband said.

In addition to exercising, Ms. Smith-Cox liked cooking various cuisines and entertaining family and friends.

"She was also a snappy dresser and thrift-shop shopper. She liked collecting shoes and had tons of them. She was like Imelda Marcos," her husband said with a laugh.

Ms. Smith-Cox was a member of Holy Temple Church of God International, 708 Bestgate Road, Annapolis, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to her husband, Ms. Smith-Cox is survived by a son, Blake Leathers of Arnold; five brothers, Otis F. Smith of Palo Alto, Calif., Donald G. Smith of Tampa, Brian A. Smith of Lancaster, Pa., Craig S. Smith of Stone Mountain, Ga., and Sterling Z. Smith of Grovetown, Ga.; and five sisters, Stephanie D. Smith of Dover, Del., Cynthia A Smith-Williams of Louisville, Ky., and Mary C. Trotman, Sandra D. Smith and Tammy A. Smith, all of Tampa.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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