Small-town boy commutes to the Capitol

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The population sign entering Fairview, Utah, reads 1,247. Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox is proud to be part of that number, even though it means he has a nearly 200-mile daily commute to the capitol.

Cox is a sixth-generation resident of Fairview and enjoys returning home each night after a long day at his office in Salt Lake City. Although that return drive can take about two hours, Cox recognizes the benefits of living in a small town and is willing to make the sacrifice in time.

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and his family pose for a family picture. The Cox family lives on a farm in Fairview, Utah. (Spencer J. Cox)

“When I get back to that small town and to the farm, I help my sons move pipe at night and those sunsets just restore my soul,” he said. “I feel like a real person again.”

Cox explained that returning home keeps him grounded as he performs his duties as a high-ranking politician.

“It’s easy to build yourself up and think that you are amazing,” Cox said. “But when I go back to Fairview, I am just a kid that grew up there. I get to be around regular, great people and remember what really matters. That has been critical to this position.”

Jonathan Benson, a neighbor and former mayor of Fairview, has worked with Cox on many occasions in both government and church responsibilities.

“I feel that Spencer is a genuine, caring person,” Benson said. “He is a person with great vision that knows how to accomplish his goals.”

Benson, who also lives the small-town life, said he believes Cox has learned valuable lessons that have helped him be a great leader and politician.

“What sets apart good politicians from the not-so-good is that somewhere along the way, the good ones have learned the trait of hard work and sacrifice,” Benson said. “In Spencer’s case, I believe that he learned the value of hard work and sacrifice from growing up in a small town.”

Cox’s wife, Abby, grew up in the same area in central Utah and always wanted to leave when she was younger. Once she did leave, her desires changed. After living in Virginia while her husband was in law school and then spending a few years in northern Utah, she realized something.

“I grew up on 600 acres, and I learned how to work,” Abby Cox said. “And I couldn’t figure out how to raise my kids on a quarter acre in the city.”

The opportunity came to move back to Fairview, and the Cox family took it. Spencer Cox then began his journey in politics, serving as mayor of Fairview, county commissioner and state representative. He was offered the position of lieutenant governor by Gov.Gary Herbert in October 2013. Accepting the position meant taking a pay cut, and he and his wife would be faced with the difficult decision of whether to move to Salt Lake City or stay in Fairview. He accepted the position, and they chose to stay in Fairview.

“I remember sitting on the porch watching my young daughter walk up the road from the bus stop, and I thought, ‘I can’t leave this,'” Spencer Cox said. “We had to make it work for the kids. This was going to be a big disruption for our family, but I wanted them to be as stable as possible.”

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and his daughter enjoy a summer bike ride on the farm.  Spencer and his wife,  Abby are grateful for the lesson that living in a small town can teach their children. (Spencer J. Cox)
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and his daughter enjoy a summer bike ride on the farm. Spencer Cox and his wife, Abby, are grateful for the lessons that living in a small town can teach their children. (Spencer J. Cox)

Abby Cox knew it would be difficult, but that it would be worth it. “We knew that we were supposed to be here. We knew this is where our kids were supposed to be raised,” she said. “They learn how to work on the farm, and it is really good for them.”

When they weighed the benefits of staying put rather than moving to Salt Lake City, Abby Cox said leaving Fairview “really wasn’t an option.”

Benson said he was impressed with their decision to stay in Fairview while Spencer was working at the capitol.

“I believe that some people in high government positions forget why they are really there,” he said. “And I would like to think that coming home to Fairview each night reminds him of why he’s really there, which is to serve the people of Utah and do what is best for them, and not what is best for him.”

Cox now drives close to four hours a day to the capitol and back to ensure that his children grow up like he did: learning how to work, being surrounded by family and enjoying the outdoors.

In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family and cheering for BYU. While he and his wife received their undergraduate degrees from Utah State University and loved their time there, Spencer Cox grew up a BYU fan. This can lead to some family conflict.

“The only time my wife and I have ever not spoken to each other was after a BYU-Utah State football game,” he said. “Although my heart goes out to Utah State, I still cheer for the Cougars. When they play each other, it gets a little dicey in my house.”

Spencer Cox said he is honored to be serving as lieutenant governor and looks forward to the future. Whether that involves continued work in state government or not, he said he considers his life to be perfect. Like other changes he and his family have faced in life, he plans to face the future as it presents itself. For now, he will continue to make the drive to Salt Lake City every morning and back to Fairview every night.

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