Cathy McDaniel remembers her dad's full-on grin, how he worked hard to support his family and how he doted over his grandchildren later in life.

She remembers her mom's sweetness toward others, her love of singing in church and her unshakable faith in God.

Wasco residents Billy Joe and Gloria Cox died last week within days of each other after both wife and husband contracted COVID-19.

Mr. Cox was 83. His wife was 77. They were married for nearly six decades.

It all happened so fast, like a spreading wildfire, McDaniel said.

"It started off like a bad cold. Later she developed an irritating cough. Eventually she got so weak she couldn't care for herself."

The family didn't think it was COVID-19. Except for attending a little country church less than two blocks from her home in Wasco and visits to the Kaiser Health van, she stayed home.

Ultimately, both husband and wife would be taken to Adventist Health Bakersfield. Both were already suffering from preexisting conditions, and they just didn't have the strength to fight off the virus.

"I wasn't able to visit my precious mom in the hospital," McDaniel said in a phone interview Thursday. Quarantine restrictions prohibit visitors, which meant the loving daughter couldn't sit at her mother's bedside to offer comfort — or even to say goodbye.

But the hospital was able to help arrange a video phone call between mom and daughter, a call that included tears of joy and gladness, even amid the suffering and loss.

"I take comfort in knowing they were both children of God," Cathy McDaniel said in a Facebook post Tuesday. "My mom's testimony on this earth was a wonderful one of how the Lord gives joy in the midst of hardship."

And Gloria Cox knew hardship.

Growing up in Delano, she contracted polio as an infant, and was in and out of the hospital. Eventually she lost much of the use of one side of her body, and used a wheelchair to get around.

"She was my sister, but she was also my best friend," said Gloria's brother, David Sudaria, who lives in Fresno.

"Polio was devastating at that time," Sudaria said of their childhood days in the 1940s and ’50s. "She was tutored at Kern General Hospital (now Kern Medical) where she was a perpetual patient, just about."

Gloria was so bright she skipped seventh grade. The brother and sister attended Delano High School together, and young David helped her get around campus in her wheelchair. But she was so well-liked, many other students regularly offered their assistance.

Later, when she met Billy Joe, who was a cabdriver at the time, they soon became inseparable. 

Some may have cautioned her about falling for a man who was six years her senior, but she would hear none of it.

"She was steadfast," her brother recalled. "She would say, 'This is the man I love. This is the man I'm going to marry.'"

Early in their marriage, for three or four years, they lived in Burbank where Bill labored in an ironworks. They lived on the second floor of an apartment, which for a woman who relied on a wheelchair, was inconvenient to say the least.

"Bill carried her up those stairs and down those stairs for four years," Sudaria said.

The family eventually moved back to the San Joaquin Valley and settled in Wasco, where Billy Joe worked in farming  — "He could do anything with a tractor," his son said — before taking a position as a bus driver and custodian at Wasco High School. 

Like his niece, Sudaria was shocked that the coronavirus had reached his sister.

"I would never have believed she would pass because of coronavirus," he said.

Losing the family matriarch and patriarch within days of each other was like a one-two punch to the gut for Randy Cox, Cathy McDaniel's brother and Gloria's son.

He was up at 3 o'clock Thursday morning writing down words of remembrance for a future eulogy in honor of his mother and father, although services were still pending.

"My mom was about as innocent a person as you could meet," he said from his home near Glennville. "Her passion was singing, making CDs of gospel music and her little country church."

For a while, she attended church in Bakersfield with her daughter's family, but she was ultimately drawn back to her neighborhood congregation in her adopted community.

"My mom felt more comfortable in a small Pentecostal church, a down-home church where she was able to sing her songs," her son said.

She had a quiet strength beneath that ladylike exterior, he said. She was consistent, her faith was constant, steady.

"My dad was as sharp-minded as he ever was," he said.

The couple "had great love for one another," Cathy McDaniel said. "Her house was always spotless, home-cooked meals and she sewed me beautiful clothes.

"She was a remarkable woman," McDaniel said. "And my dad’s love was quiet but very evident."

Both Cathy McDaniel and her brother, Randy, said they hope if any good comes from their loss, it's that people who don't take the dangers of the virus seriously — and those who have let down their guard — will redouble their efforts to protect against spreading the illness.

"To me, that's very important," Cox said. "I started off being careful, but I finally started laxing. I wasn't taking it that seriously. Then this happens and you realize how deadly it is.

"If it gets to your people, your family, it's bad," he said. "People need to think about that."

His sister was just as adamant.

Our mother "contracted this virus and hardly ever left her house," she said. "Please be cautious, please wear a mask, and disinfect and wash your hands.

"Please let this help somebody else."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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