Remembering Melva

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Family members doubt they’ll ever know for sure what made Melva McWilliams-Cox jump to her death from the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

And the wondering, they say, may be the cruelest blow of all.

Cox jumped to her death shortly after 7 p.m. Aug. 8. Her body was found two days later some 12 miles downstream in the Alabama River.

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She left two small tote bags and her shoes neatly stacked on the pavement of the bridge. At least one witness said he saw her clinging to the outside of the bridge and that she simply let go and fell to her death when passersby attempted to come to her aid.

Now at least one family member believes that one of her periodic episodes of manic-depressive disorder may have led Melva to take her own life.

According to Matthew Cox, her former husband of 13 years, Melva had been under treatment for manic-depressive disorder shortly before her death. He wonders now if she was released from the treatment facility too soon and if she had received any medicine for her condition.

Cox said his initial reaction was one of shock and disbelief when he learned his former wife had committed suicide.

Cox, who lives in Massachusetts, said he met his former wife when he came to Selma to visit his late grandmother, Bessie Foster.

The Coxes were married on Sept. 17, 1968. Melva served for a time in the Army until she became pregnant with Jennifer.

But, for Melva, the laughter seemed to stop after her mother’s death in 1999.

When the Coxes divorced, Jennifer, who suffers from diabetes, went to live with her father. &uot;She wanted Jennifer to be with me because she thought I would be able to provide her with better medical care,&uot; Cox said. &uot;That was always her main concern was Jennifer.&uot;

Cox, who has since remarried, said Melva and Jennifer remained in close contact since the breakup.

It is a question that may never be answered for Cox and other family members. Before returning to Massachusetts, he and Jennifer visited the spot where Melva left her few personal belongings.

They placed a wreath there, along with a copy of the funeral service signed by family members. Jennifer signed it simply, &uot;I love you mom. I’ll never forget.&uot;

It was Cox who broke the news of her mother’s death to Jennifer. Coming so close on the heels of the plans she was making about going to live with her mother, he said the news left her devastated.

The Army provided an American flag for Melva’s funeral and presented it to Jennifer. Now it and a host of lingering questions are all that are left.