By LYALL SWIM
God weaves patterns in the lives of individuals in a way not often understood until much later, Paul A. Cox told participants at a meeting for the Association for Mormon Letters last Thursday.
Cox, a former dean and professor at BYU, now serves as the director of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, which are located in Hawaii and Florida.
“Our lives are woven in a pattern that at the time we cannot perceive,” Cox said. “I found this to be the case with my experiences in Samoa.”
Cox was instrumental in helping to save 30,000 acres of Samoan rain forest and helped to bring to the medical and scientific community a drug which has been proven to protect cells against the AIDS virus.
Cox pointed to four major threads which led him to the Samoan rain forest. The first was a great love of plants — not just of plants, but of the look, smell and even the structure of plants.
“I had written my first book on plants by the time I was ten,” Cox said.
“When I see artificial plants, I get outraged,” Cox said jokingly.
The second thread was a love for the Polynesian language.
As a missionary called to serve in Samoa, Cox struggled to learn the language, but by the end of his mission the language “sang to me,” Cox said.
It was during his mission that Cox acquired the third thread: a love for rain forests.
“I come from a great line of conservationists,” Cox said.
Growing up in Utah had given Cox many opportunities to study interesting plants, but it wasn’t until his service as a missionary in Samoa that Cox was exposed to the botanical treasure trove found in the Samoan rain forest.
The fourth thread was a love of the Polynesian people.
While serving as a missionary in Samoa, Cox fell ill. Upon hearing the news of Cox, the village chief went to the trading post on the island to procure some Western items for the ailing Cox.
The chief returned with a coconut basket full of food and fruit for Cox.
“I have spent the rest of my life trying to pay them back for that basket,” Cox said gratefully.
Cox has also been the recipient of numerous awards from such organizations as Time and CHOICE magazines for his work in the Samoan rain forest.