Community mourns longtime activist Barbara Knox - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Community mourns longtime activist Barbara Knox

March 3rd, 2018 development
Community mourns longtime activist Barbara Knox


The community is mourning a longtime Chandler activist who advocated for education, the arts, nonprofit outreach and anything else that helped her beloved city.

Barbara Knox died on Feb. 23. She was 84.

A Celebration of Life service will be 2-3 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave.

Mrs. Knox, who graduated fourth in her class from Chandler High School in 1951, was elected to the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board in 1984 and served two terms. The Knox Gifted Academy was named after her family.

She served in the Chandler Service Club for more than 60 years and was active in many agricultural groups, including the Phoenix Cotton Wives and International Flying Farmers.

Her son Lyle, of Chandler, said his mother was “always willing to help, always wanting to organize.”

“That’s just the type of person she was raised to be, helping others,” he said. “She was involved with church, with Chandler Service Club, P.E.O., International Flying Farmers, Kappa (Kappa Gamma sorority), that’s just part of it. If any single person was a ramrod for getting the Chandler Center for the Arts built, it was Mom.”

Born in Muncie, Indiana, in 1933, to Gail T. Gaddis and Hazel Dennis Gaddis, Mrs. Knox had a brother, Tom Gaddis, who died in 2008.

When she was 8, her family moved to Hazel’s grandparents’ farm, where Mrs. Knox learned to drive tractors, feed chickens and pigs, process milk and gather eggs.

Hazel moved to Arizona in 1946 because of health problems and Barbara followed a year later.

Barbara met her husband, Norman, at Chandler High, and she was active in band, tennis, student government, plays, horseback riding and dances.

After high school, Mrs. Knox earned an associate’s degree from Colorado Women’s College, now part of Denver University, in 1953.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Arizona in 1955, then began teaching at Williams Air Force Base Elementary School.

She married Norman in 1955 and the couple had Lyle in 1957 and Alex in 1965.

Mrs. Knox was the “bookkeeper and record keeper” for the farm her husband ran, growing hay, alfalfa, cotton, soybeans and other crops, Lyle said.

A lifelong Methodist, she worked with the youth groups, Bible school, Sunday school and choir for more than 50 years. She and Norman joined the Chandler United Methodist Church in the 1950s.

“Education was her big thing,” Lyle said. “That’s why she wanted to be on the school board. I’m glad she did. It really helped shape the district…everything she did was to promote academics and the arts, as well, but she was pretty balanced. She didn’t do this at the expense of the big name stuff like football, baseball and basketball. She was a sports nut.”

Chandler Unified Superintendent Camille Casteel knew Barbara for more than 40 years, dating back to Casteel’s time as a teacher in the district.

Casteel became assistant superintendent in 1986 and said Mrs. Knox was great to work with when she was on the school board, recalling how she “was always so well prepared” for meetings and “knew the topics thoroughly.”

“I always refer to her as the City of Chandler historian,” Casteel said. “She has had an incredible memory for the past and could recall people and events with such clarity. We used her quite a bit when we created our historical documentary.”

Casteel had breakfast with Mrs. Knox every six weeks or so for about the last 20 years.

She recalled Mrs. Knox calling her many times to offer support when she became superintendent, saying she would do whatever needed to be done. She said Mrs. Knox was “just a lovely person” who was “extremely intelligent.”

“We always lovingly would say Barbara bleeds blue, Chandler High blue,” Casteel said. “She was a beautiful person. She will be missed. She was committed and loyal to the community.”

Chandler Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Terri Kimble said, “Barbara and Norman Knox have been members of the Chandler Chamber since 1956, tirelessly supporting the growth of business in Chandler.

“Barbara believed in actively building and guiding Chandler’s future from serving on the school board to volunteering for countless charities,” Kimble said. “We are saddened by her passing but so very thankful she crossed our path on her journey.”

Developer Martin Sepulveda, a former City Council member, said Mrs. Knox gave him advice the first time he campaigned for office and that she was “very forthright.”

“Whatever she had on her mind, she would tell you – no guessing where Barbara Knox stood,” he said. “What I really appreciate about her and her family, they were proud of their roots. She was a very fair and honest person. We need more Barbara Knoxes. She’s a fixture in the community.”

Mrs. Knox is survived by her husband of 62 years, Norman, as well as her two sons, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

A visitation will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Chandler Center for the Arts, and a graveside service will take place at 3:30 p.m. at Valley of the Sun Mortuary & Cemetery, 10940 E. Chandler Heights Road.

Light refreshments will be provided at Chandler United Methodist Church at 4 p.m. at 450 East Chandler Heights Road.

Instead of sending flowers, the family is requesting people make donations to the following organizations: Chandler United Methodist Church, Chandler Service Club, Chandler Education Foundation and Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Information: (add Barbara Knox under “special instructions;” (click “donate”); (click “donate now”); and