Breakfast is Marcelyn Cox’s favorite meal. It matters less where—highbrow or dive—but crisp bacon is a has-to-have; pancakes are runners-up.
Sharing the first meal of the day with the assistant dean of Career Development at Miami Law is often a food minefield since every breakfast is compared against Rae's, a time capsule of a diner in Santa Monica, California, which earns a 15/10 rating in her imaginary breakfast scorebook. Rae’s provides fond memories of her time in Southern California where she did her undergraduate studies.
“I am a morning person, and I wake up hungry,” she says. “My day starts off well if I have a good breakfast.”
As we slide into a sleek gray leatherette banquette at a deli in South Miami, a pancake served on a pizza pan wafts by and Cox looks a little love struck.
Cox, or Marcy as she is to friends and family, has loved breakfast since she was a little girl growing up in Key West. Any breakfast at home featured a full plate of savories; no bowl of cold cereal for the Coxes.
Her island town has undergone a sea change since the days when Cox accompanied her grandmother paying her bills on foot all over downtown before heading back to the family home on Truman Street, a 19th-century conch house, where Cox’s uncle, Cecil, still lives. (Her grandmother, Ruby, never felt the need to buy a car or get a driver’s license; everything she needed was just a quick walk away.)
Cox's grandfather owned and ran Club 21, a bar in what is now called Bahama Village. It was the favorite haunt of local politicians and a Rockefeller, with a gambling joint out back.
Cox lived an idyllic and rich life between school and band, roller skating, movies, and strolling on Duval Street. Key West had every kind of school sports teams and little leagues; the culture revolved around Friday night games, like many small towns. But the Coxes were also jazz and rhythm and blues listeners as well as voracious readers.
"It wasn't unusual for everyone in my family to be at home and in their rooms reading," says Cox "and all different kinds of books. We just read, read, read." An early favorite was the Harold Robbins 1948 sizzler of gangster passion, "Never Love a Stranger," which was on her mom’s bookshelf when Marcy was in 4th grade.
"My mother said to me, 'You can read any book you want if you can understand the words.’ Nothing was off limits," Cox says. “My parents were very progressive, they were educators, and they were always direct and honest." She also read the sports page as a 5-year-old, discussing football with her dad at the dinner table.
Her mother was a Teacher of the Year and the science coordinator for Monroe County Schools; she was the person who introduced sex education into the public schools. Her father was the assistant superintendent of Schools and an elected member for the utility board, Keys Energy.
Music was also a constant in the Cox home. She followed in her sister’s steps, starting piano and cello as a 6-year-old. Cox graduated to the alto saxophone in junior high. An uncle in Kansas City played the sax in a jazz band. "I knew what a sax sounded like from my parents' and grandparents’ albums, with John Coltrane being a favorite. I loved music and playing the sax. I practiced nearly every day and made Florida All-State five times."
Movies are another thread that weaves through Cox's life. Despite the trauma of watching Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 horror-thriller The Birds as a 3-year-old, she grew to love film (Cox obtained a master of fine arts in film from the University of Miami in 2004) though she still flinches when a bird flies near. Her aunt and older sister wanted to see the flick and figured that she was too young to understand. “That was clearly not the case,” she laughs in that full-throated Marcy way.
Even as a young girl, Cox knew two things: she would go away to college, and she would be a lawyer. “I first knew what a lawyer was from watching ‘Perry Mason,’" she says. "Then the daughter of a good friend of the family came to visit. She was a lawyer and wanted to be a judge. We talked about law schools."
The family friend, Leah Simms, would later be the first African American woman to become a judge in the state of Florida. “My cousin Linda Kelly Kearson (former general counsel for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit) attended Miami Law in the eighties; my cousin Raymone Bain worked for the Carter White House and as a prominent publicist and attorney representing the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Jackson.
“My parents served as the best role models, but I also had other incredibly strong Black, female role models throughout my life,” Cox says, "which meant that I was always steady and secure in whatever I did or wanted to do.”
After a high school career filled with concert, jazz, and marching band, Cox headed off to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the school she had fallen in love with during a family trip. There, she majored in political science and joined the Spirit of Troy, the school’s marching band.
Band would take her to college stadiums all over the world. Cox loved California and decided to remain for law school, attending Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a member of the California Law Review.
After practicing law for seven years in California, Cox returned to South Florida and joined the law school in 1997. She has been a member of the administration since.
The table is a car wreck of syrupy plates, bits of bacon, glasses dried with orange pulp, and half-empty coffee cups as our breakfast feast winds down. Cox starts a Yelp-worthy critique of the New York-style delicatessen, commenting on everything from the number of blueberries in the pancake to syrup presentation.
"It was good," says Cox. "It's no Rae's though." *Sigh*