Dr. Alton Cobb died peacefully at home surrounded by family on October 14, 2021.
Dr. Cobb - known to his family as Al - was born in a dog-trot log cabin without electricity to Joseph Harrison and Winnie Ora Cobb in the Cameron community near Camden, MS, on October 19, 1928. From that dirt road in Madison County, he went on to a career and life of purpose and public service.
As a child, Dr. Cobb attended public schools and remained a strong proponent of public education his entire life. He started at a one-room schoolhouse in Camden and ended with his graduation from Camden High School in 1946. He attended Holmes Junior (Community) College, graduated from The University of Mississippi and then attended the Medical School Program at the University of Mississippi. He loved Ole Miss for the rest of his life and made it plain to his nine grandchildren that he would help with the cost of college if, and only if, they went to The University of Mississippi.
Dr. Cobb attended Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland. He often wondered how he’d gotten into Hopkins; it probably had something to do with the fact that his recommendation was written by Dr. Arthur Guyton, the author of what is perhaps the most widely read medical textbook in the world. At Hopkins, Dr. Cobb met a young Waterloo, Iowa nursing student named Mary O’Connor. Mary worked as a nurse on one of his cases, and he called her that very first evening for a date. He earned his degree from Hopkins in 1954, and in a feat that was equally impressive, convinced Mary to marry him and move south. An internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans was followed by two years of active service in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Korean War. Shortly thereafter, he received a Master of Public Health Degree from Tulane University in 1960. He retired as a full Colonel from the Mississippi National Guard following many years of service.
After a brief solo medical practice in the small town of Pickens, Dr. Cobb began a career in Public Health that would occupy him for the next 35 years. He first served as a county health director for Sunflower County, and soon as the director of Chronic Disease Services for the State Department of Health. Dr. Cobb was an active voice in conversations with Governor John Bell Williams about whether to bring Medicaid to Mississippi. When that came to pass, Dr. Cobb became the first executive director of the Mississippi Medicaid Commission.
In 1973 he was appointed State Health Officer for the Mississippi Department of Health, a position he held until 1992 . Assisted by dedicated public servants, Dr. Cobb led the reorganization of the agency and several major initiatives, among those including: implementing the nationally recognized Mississippi Women’s, Infants’ and Children’s Program; a reduction in infant mortality and tuberculosis rates; compulsory school vaccinations; modernized public health statutes; stronger patient protection in nursing homes and licensure regulations for home health care; and a statewide emergency medical services system.
After retiring from the Mississippi State Department of Health, he served almost a decade as clinical consultant for Information and Quality Healthcare.
Dr. Cobb received multiple honors and awards during his career including Alumnus of the Year from Holmes Community College and the Tulane School of Public Health. For several years he served as an alternate delegate from Mississippi to the American Medical Association. He was awarded the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He was recognized by the American Public Health Association as a recipient of an award of Merit; Public Administrator of the Year for Mississippi 1981; Blair Batson Award of Merit from the Mississippi Academy of Pediatrics and most recently the Humanitarian Award from the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians.
In retirement, Dr Cobb invested in charitable causes – often those raised to him as valuable by his wife Mary - and spent countless hours at the “old home place,” near Camden where he inspected his pine trees and welcomed families and friends for regular Sunday gatherings.
Dr. Cobb’s parents Joe and Winnie Ora, and his older brother John Herbert, preceded him in death.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Mary O’Connor Cobb, three children: Mary Alene Alford (Tim) of Kosciusko, Dr. Tommy Cobb (Laura Lea) of Starkville, and Susan Cobb (Dave Heidenthal) of Ridgeland. Also surviving are his nine grandchildren, of whom he was immensely proud, Timothy Alford (Mary Bruce), Leah Hendrix (Tal), John Paul Alford (Jana), Jenny Sneed (Will), Lauren Steele (David), Cameron Cobb (Tillery), Scott Jimenez (Julia), Sara Burns (John) and Mary Grace Suggs (John) and 18 (soon to be 19) great grandchildren, of whom he was unabashedly prouder. Once asked by Mary what he would wish if granted one last wish, Dr. Cobb quipped “More affordable and accessible health care for all the people of Mississippi.” He was practical and principled and uninterested in material possessions and he spent his life working towards that end.
There will be no visitation due to the ongoing pandemic. A family graveside service will be held at Shiloh Cemetery, one-half mile from the log house where he was born.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to The Gleaners, 237 Briarwood Drive, Jackson, Mississippi 39206, a food bank where Dr. Cobb volunteered for years following his retirement, or to a charity of one’s choice, preferably one that improves upon the health and well-being of the people of Mississippi.