Travel begets travel: Bridget Cox adds Uganda to her list

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 6, 2017

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

On a wall in Bridget Elise Cox’s office is a huge gold scratch-off map — like a lottery ticket, but way, way bigger.

Visit a country, scratch it off, and the map blooms with color.

These days, Cox’s map is mighty colorful. Traveling is a passion. She travels for her job as executive project manager for J.R. Clancy Inc. and is based in Syracuse, New York. But the Rowan County native travels for pleasure every chance she gets.

If she had a travel bucket list, she could scratch off Uganda. At the end of May, she spent almost two weeks in Africa on a trip that’s long been at the top of her list. Cox, who typically travels alone, went with a guide to several national parks, joining a group of seven other travelers as they observed gorillas and chimpanzees.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life. I love all animals, and I’ve always loved primates,” says Cox, 35, the daughter of Gary and Lugene Cox of Granite Quarry and an East Rowan High School graduate.

Her older brother, Jason, who gave her with the map, lives in Cary, where he’s a computer engineer. Her younger brother, Parker, is a band director who lives in Granite Quarry.

Cox was eager to see gorillas in the wild. Since she flies Delta Airlines for work, she’s always keen to use reward miles for personal travel. Although she was thinking about going to Greece, the price for an airline ticket to Uganda was “very reasonable,” so she contacted several safari companies. She chose the one that included a suggestion for whitewater rafting on the Nile River.

Mountain gorillas live in the wild in only three countries, Cox says — Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. Some groups in the Uganda park are “habituated” to humans, meaning “they are cool with having humans around.”

Cox and her group watched from about 20 feet away as gorillas ate and made their way through a rainforest. Their guide carried a machete to hack a path at times.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, Cox says.

Well … maybe. She’s already talking to a girlfriend about traveling to see the gorillas in the Congo.

Cox admits that it’s hard not to return to a place she’s already visited. She jumped at the opportunity to work in Singapore for a year. From there, she was able to travel all over Southeast Asia.

“The more places you go, the more you want to go,” she says.

Her job certainly affords her many travel opportunities. She’s been with the company since 2008. Founded in 1885, J.R. Clancy designs, manufactures and installs theatrical equipment around the world. In Singapore, Cox worked long hours and stayed up late to accommodate the 12-hour time difference between there and New York.

“About once a month, I’d take a long weekend and travel,” she says. “The flights were short, easy and cheap. It was a good place to be based.”

Cox spent three years on a project in Taiwan, traveling there multiple times. During that time, she visited Japan and Laos. You’d think by now she’d be used to the long flights to Asia, but no.

“It’s grueling,” she says of the 30 hours of travel time. “I used to sleep really well on planes. Now I bring lots of work, because there’s a long period of time to get caught up without distractions. I watch lots of movies. Honestly, there’s no science to it for me. For me, you don’t get used to it, you just deal with it.”

Cox admits to being career focused and very much a workaholic. She is trying to create a little more balance in her life though, she says.

“Right now, I’m very content,” she says. “I’m a different person when I’m overseas. I take risks I wouldn’t normally take.”

Like whitewater rafting on the Nile, for example. She’s a good traveler, but a picky eater. She always packs granola bars and other snacks.

Bridget got into her industry not through the theater, but through dance. She took classes at Salisbury School of Ballet from ages 5 to 18. She went to East Carolina University intending to major in dance.

“That program is very collaborative,” she points out. Students must take a class in technical theater, which she did her first semester, and fell in love with the theater.

“I quickly decided to change my major,” she says.

Not a huge surprise, since she’d grown up going to drama camp at the Meroney Theater. She got a rigging internship at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, New York, and worked there for five summers. Other jobs with rigging companies followed — she also knows how to weld — until she landed at her current company.

Cox has found her niche in a male-dominated industry, basically working on construction sites as her company does permanent installations.

“I’m on construction sites,” she says, “and they just happen to be at theaters and arenas.”

A special project was the beacon constructed for the top of One World Trade Center in New York City. A lighting company subcontracted J.R. Clancy to build the mechanism for the top of the steel structure, creating a lighthouse affect visible for miles.

“We are known for our project management capability,” Cox says, “and we are a New York company. It was a small project scope in comparison to a large performing arts center, but it was obviously just an amazing thing to be a part of.”

Cox is a union stagehand but not a union ironworker or electrician, so she only got to see the mechanism when it was on the ground due to site protocol. But, she says, “I absolutely could have climbed that tower. I like to be as high in the air as I can.”

When she travels, she enjoys hiking and rock climbing. At home, she’s content hanging with friends and seeing live music. She’s not really a theater buff. Over the past decade, she’s seen the group Phish some 80 times. And she’s gotten used to living in Syracuse, despite living away several times for different projects.

“I feel like I have a life here now,” she says.

Another place she’d like to visit is Papua New Guinea, because there are still cannibals there. Well … maybe.

Antarctica is also on her list, but a long way down — after retirement, if she ever stops working, she says. Then she’ll have traveled on all seven continents.