Phone calls with Roselyn Knox could last forever.
Whenever her niece was approaching the hospital to get results from her cancer tests, Knox was on the other end of the line, reminding her niece to breathe. When her son’s friend was waiting for her mother to come out of surgery, Knox kept the call going for more than an hour, bookended with prayers.
“When I got my results back from the hospital, we wouldn’t talk about negativity,” her niece April Holt said. “We would just talk about what God says about who I am and how I could fight this and I could beat this. And I am still here, so it’s working.”
Knox, a longtime Tacoma resident and founder of a Christian nonprofit aimed at women, died from complications related to COVID-19 on Oct. 12 at Madigan Army Medical Center. She was 70.
Her son, Parissh Knox, added a line in her paid obituary encouraging those who loved her to not wait to get vaccinated:
Roselyn’s family strongly recommends that attendees obtain their COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots for those who are privileged to get them. Talk to your medical provider for accurate information.
Knox had been hesitant to get the vaccine, although her son later learned she may have been coming around to the idea. But it was too late.
“I want people to know,” Parissh Knox, who lives in Los Angeles, said. “When you start knowing people who died from it, you take it a lot more seriously.”
Knox was born in Ohio and grew up in Colorado, a talented violist who in high school was the only Black member of the All State Orchestra. She met her husband, Sylvester Knox, at a club in Colorado, and the two married in 1978. Knox didn’t think she could give birth to a child and thought it might be hard for a Black couple to adopt a child in the United States. So while they lived in Okinawa, Japan, where Sylvester was stationed, they adopted a 4-year-old boy from an orphanage.
Later on, their son and his mom had an inside joke that, while he had two mothers, Knox was his “No. 1 mom.” Soon after the couple adopted Parissh, Knox unexpectedly became pregnant with their daughter, Marie Knox. The family moved to military bases abroad and throughout the United States, and settled in Tacoma in the 1980s.
Their home was a “mishmash of cultures and life experiences,” Parissh Knox said, among diverse families who Knox would take in as her own. When Holt, her niece, was a child, she and her sister spent a few summers with the family. They were two “damaged, difficult and snotty-nosed” girls who were growing up in a tough environment in Chicago, but, Holt said, their saving grace was their aunt. She bought the tickets for Holt’s first airplane ride, took her on her first road trip and tailored Holt’s first designer clothes.
Knox worked at range control on Joint Base Lewis McChord for 20 years, and founded a nonprofit called Women’s Ministry Plus You, dedicated to spreading the Christian gospel to women virtually. When her husband died in 2005, she doubled down on being open and supportive to others, Parissh Knox said. Her circle expanded even more when Marie died at 39 in 2018 from complications during a double-organ transplant surgery.
“When you go through painful moments you understand how many people are struggling, and how many people have been through things,” Parissh Knox said.
Her son made a point to gather his friends together to hang out with his mom when she visited him in Los Angeles. Knox stayed in contact with several of those friends — more than a dozen traveled to Tacoma for her services. When Perla Aragon’s mom had surgery a few months ago, Knox made sure to call her.
“She encouraged me, and prayed with me, over and over,” Aragon said. “She was always someone who would pray for you, or pray with you.”
The phone calls became even more important, Knox’s loved ones said, during the pandemic. Knox took COVID precautions seriously, Parissh Knox said — her car was filled with various masks, hand sanitizers and gloves — and she tried to avoid going out, which was a strain for such a social person. But she wouldn’t give her son a straight answer when he mentioned he was vaccinated, and asked if she was, too. She originally said she was thinking about it and going to talk to her doctor.
Knox never explicitly said she was against the COVID vaccine, according to her cousin Robin Withers, but it wasn’t a topic she ever broached. Withers did talk to Knox about some of her concerns regarding the Black community and health inequities, such as the high infant mortality rate among Black mothers and history of experiments on Black people without their consent.
“I would never say ‘Roselyn, did you get vaccinated?’ but we talked about her concerns, and the history of people of color with vaccines,” said Withers, who called Knox her prayer warrior and close enough that she felt more like a sister than a cousin.
Parissh Knox came to visit his mom for her birthday in July, which they spent driving to her friends’ homes so she could give them little gifts, like plants and pie, rather than the other way around. Meanwhile, he kept urging her to get vaccinated, but he knew that as a son, he couldn’t force her. He visited again over Labor Day weekend, and the two had a great time, taking videos together in a park.
Soon after, following a church event she attended, she told her son she had a cold. He sent her a COVID test and pulse oximeter and called every day to check on her. He kept debating whether to fly from Los Angeles to see her, but a friend told him no, she was fine. Listen to your mom.
On Sept. 20, around 2:30 a.m., Knox texted her son, asking how to take the COVID test. An hour later, she told him she had tested positive. That day, she went to Madigan Army Medical Center, where she was put on a ventilator because her oxygen levels were so low. She died three weeks later.
“You don’t expect your friends to get COVID, and pass away because of COVID,” her friend Dale Golder said. “There was so much talk about it and getting vaccinated and all of that, to have Roz be one of my friends to get COVID and not make it out … it’s just real traumatic that you lose so many people, and one of them is Roz.”
Knox’s death has led to her family taking a stronger pro-vaccination stance, Parissh Knox said, persuading some to get their initial doses or a booster. What his mom went through, he said, “is at the forefront of everyone’s mind” when they persuade others to get vaccinated and boosted, and to do it right away.
In the days after his mother’s death, Parissh Knox went through her cellphone. Her last Google search: Where to find a COVID vaccine.