Cecil Louis Cobb departed this world on January 31, 2023, at the age of 68, unexpectedly and tragically young, but in the way he always said he would want to go: fast. Born on December 22, 1954, Cecil was a beloved native son of Fluvanna County, born and raised here by his mother, Jane Elizabeth Davis Cobb and adoptive father, Andrew Winn Cobb. He also was proud to share with others that his biological father was Robert “Bob” McQuain, who left to make his mark as an actor on the Andy Griffith Show and later became a realtor in Rogue River, Oregon. He is survived by his life partner and wife Tanya Denckla Cobb and son Timothy Allen Cobb, born to Cecil’s first wife, Patti Cobb; brother Jay Allen Cobb and wife Angelina Dodd Cobb; aunt Charlotte Baker; uncle Ty Cobb and wife Barbara; first cousins Deborah Davis, Hope Wood, and Leslie Davis Benson; and many additional cousins and relatives. Through his biological father, he is survived by half-brother David McQuain and half-sister Michelle McQuain and their children.
Throughout his entire life, Cecil brought humor and light to those around him. He was, by all accounts, one of a kind. He was always ready to listen, ready for adventure, ready to share any of his hundreds of remarkable escapades and stories, always aiming to make people laugh and smile, always loyal and protective of those he loved. Known affectionately by many locals as “C,” he grew up in the small tight-knit community of Fork Union during a time when everyone knew everyone else, so stories about Cecil abound.
Cecil’s friends always said he had nine lives: he had many near-death experiences over the years. The first near-death experience – in the 1976 accident that the surgeon said he would not survive – Cecil was driving a VW Beetle when he was smashed head-on by a felon out on bond. Cecil remembered seeing the light and hovering above the surgical table before returning to his body, proving the surgeon wrong.
This first near-death experience transformed Cecil’s outlook on life; he never again took life for granted. His bedrock belief was that every day alive was a good day, and life should be cherished and honored. His life was a testimony to this clarity of vision, as he treated people of all walks, origins, faiths, and races, as he thought they deserved to be treated – with grace, generosity, respect, and genuine curiosity about their path and journey. He knew who he was and was never intimidated by anyone or any situation, whether it was introducing a state Senator or insisting on payment from the head of a major east coast contractor. To so many he was indestructible, larger than life, healthy, vibrant, and both physically and spiritually strong.
Yet Cecil’s nine lives span far more than his innumerable escapades and brushes with death. He had at least nine different roles throughout his life – entrepreneur, mechanical genius and antique car restorationist, custom home builder, race car driver, hunter, firefighter, community leader, father, soul mate and life partner.
Cecil loved to recount how he began his entrepreneurial career at the age of 10 by selling greeting cards. Only recently did he admit, while shaking his head at how this could never happen today, that he’d sold enough greeting cards in order to win the school prize, his first shotgun.
At the same early age of 10, his mechanical genius began to manifest. While the rest of his family would watch football after a good Sunday dinner with deviled eggs and mashed potatoes, Cecil would go scavenging at Walter Melton’s junkyard. He first built a go-cart, plucking a 5HP motor out of an old washing machine (they ran on gasoline back then), building his own steering system, and racing it around the yard. Told he could have any car from the junkyard for $25, Cecil negotiated it down to $10 and made enough bagging groceries at $0.50/hr to buy a 1936 Dodge coupe. With the help of a few guys who flipped over a ‘52 Chevrolet for him, Cecil transported tools on his bicycle to take out the rear end. Then he bought a motor from Uncle Randolph for $15 and hauled it home with a tractor. By the age of 12, Cecil had successfully built his first car: a ‘36 Dodge with a ‘42 Chevrolet motor and a ‘52 Chevrolet rear end. He got it running but never drove it. When he was 14, he bought a ‘56 Chevrolet for $50, which he had borrowed from the bank, making him the bank’s youngest person to ever receive a loan. He worked on the motor, put on chrome rims, painted it, installed bucket seats and a console, finishing it with a cool 8-track stereo. This was to become his lifelong passion, taking what others would consider junk autos and parts and rebuilding them into functional beauties. With his mechanical genius and vision, Cecil created a legacy of at least twenty automotive works of art, including a 1928 Model A Roadster that won national first prize at the annual Hershey Eastern Region AACA Car show.
As a toddler, Cecil loved carrying around a hammer, a sign of what was to come. A straight-A student through high school, Cecil intended to go to college but after one semester of Piedmont Community College, he decided it wasn’t for him and instead took the courses needed for a real estate license. He had too many things he wanted to do and was eager to get started. Prior to starting his own custom home building company Cecil spent almost 20 years in commercial construction, working with contract teams to build some of the largest projects in the state of Virginia and gaining expertise in sales, estimating, and project management. He worked with renowned contractors such as Turner International, Morrison-Knudson (the company that built the hoover dam), Gilbane Building Company, and Fluor-Daniel, at the time the largest contractor in the world. He first worked for R.L. Beyer, then moved into commercial sales with Charlottesville Glass & Mirror, overseeing the installation of Yogaville’s glass lotus and numerous signature glass buildings in Virginia and Washington D.C. From there he joined the Ceiling & Floor Shop, working on large commercial projects such as prisons, hospitals, and schools. Before starting his own custom home construction company, Cecil also spent a year with ShenValley Drywall building out a flooring division and leaving them with large commercial contracts. Finally, wanting to be his own boss, Cecil founded Cobb Construction in 1993. Nearly thirty years later, with almost no advertising, Cecil never lacked for work and is leaving a legacy of over 150 custom homes in the five-county region. In 2021 he received the Fluvanna Review’s Best Builder award, a fitting capstone to his reputation for excellence, not cutting corners, always respecting and paying his subs even at his own cost, along with guiding and supporting homeowners through the stresses of building.
When trying to decide what he wanted to do when he grew up, Cecil knew it had to be either racing or building. Though he chose building for his career, racing was still in his blood. Many in Fluvanna remember drag racing with him in the streets of Scottsville where they would block off the streets for side-by-side races down Main Street and over the James River bridge. A few decades later, an invitation to a drag race re-ignited Cecil’s taste for speed. He restored a 1967 Chevy II into a gorgeous lightening-streaked beast that he raced in Super Pro at Waynesboro, Richmond, Colonial Beach, Dinwiddie, and Summerduck, tweaking the engine systems to over 1000HP, and clocking the 1/8 mile as fast as 5.35 seconds without any nitrous. He loved that racing was about focus and precision; he explained it as a challenge of both accurately and precisely predicting the interaction between the day’s weather conditions, motor performance, and driver. And yes, he felt the need, the need for speed.
Like many people growing up in a small rural county, Cecil learned to hunt at an early age and became an excellent marksman, rarely missing a shot. He loved teaching and sharing this with his son, Tim, and the many hours they spent together in the woods formed a special father-son bond that he cherished. He also taught his wife, Tanya, the art of silence on long walks during which he would decode the forest, showing her how to recognize turkey scratchings and pointing out signs of different wildlife. As many of his hunting friends know, Cecil most loved the special challenges of calling up toms in the early dawn of misty spring mornings. His family and friends were entertained by many stories of toms gobbling and strutting, coming within breathing distance before flying off before he could take the shot, or how he stopped a mother bear and her two cubs from charging him, or the time he proudly took a long shot on a dusky West Virginia evening only to discover it was a crow.
Cecil believed in service to his community. He served as a volunteer firefighter for ten years with the Fork Union Volunteer Fire Company, a first responder, and was elected President of the Fluvanna County Fire Department. He did not discuss the tragedies he witnessed, but his calm, clear thinking and ability to take charge through even the most dire emergencies was a hallmark of his life. Many also remember Cecil as “Coach” for the nine years he coached Dixie Youth Baseball and served as President and Vice-President of the League. Cecil grew up playing Little League, so he loved both the game and coaching; he would tell his team the game was not about winning, it’s about doing your personal best and playing your very best game as a team, but it’s also a lot more fun to win, so let’s go out there, give it our very best, and let’s win! He always said the biggest challenge in coaching was not the kids but the parents. This is where Cecil’s natural conflict management skills proved helpful – breaking up fights, stopping parents from charging the field or attacking the umpire, or talking them down about why their child didn’t get to play a particular position.
These same skills were needed when he was elected to the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors for 12 years and served as Chair for six. Cecil was a natural born mediator, negotiator, and broker of the art of the possible. During his term, he dealt with some of the greatest changes in the county in his lifetime, and he oversaw numerous improvements to the county’s physical infrastructure and services. He considered one of his greatest contributions to be overseeing the design of the County courthouse complex, the public safety building at Pleasant Grove, and the new Palmyra firehouse – all of which he succeeded in holding to a high level of design standards. During his twelve years, he served as Director of Emergency Services; a member of the Fork Union Sanitary District Advisory Board; Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; Economic Development Commission; Landfill Advisory Committee; Fluvanna County Local Emergency Planning Committee; and the Fluvanna County Fire and Rescue Steering Committee. Other accomplishments include his long-time support for the county school system and building at Pleasant Grove the new high school, new library, and recreational facilities for county residents including the Heritage Trail and new baseball, softball, and soccer fields. He was a long advocate for environmental protection and rural preservation, as was instrumental in improving the Fork Union Sanitary District through loans and grants that replaced water tanks, water lines, improved water pressure, and enabled a new water treatment facility that dramatically improved water quality. Cecil was also a strong proponent for bringing water from the James River to Zion Crossroads to facilitate economic development that would strengthen the county’s non-residential tax base. He brokered and signed a water deal with the Fluvanna Women’s Prison and Louisa County that would have brought a long-term water supply directly to Zion Crossroads, with Louisa County and the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women paying for the bulk of the construction cost as well as providing Fluvanna County with long-term water revenues. During his tenure, Cecil never took any of the public attacks personally, no matter how ugly or intense. He could always separate the person from the issue, saying that, although he might not agree with someone on a specific issue, they would likely find common ground on something else.
As a father, Cecil loved raising Tim and always believed his role as a parent was to foster and support his son’s growth and success as his own person, providing guidance whenever needed but not imposing or insisting on any particular direction. Seeing his son’s natural instincts with vehicles, Cecil had no qualms teaching him to drive the riding lawnmower at an early age (even if the blade wasn’t lowered), a motorbike, 4-wheeler, and eventually gave Tim one of his Harleys. He was proud of his son’s initiative, curiosity, and courage in different domains, how he applied to programs on his own, formed friendships with school principals and leaders, was interested in travelling from an early age, became the first in Cecil’s family to earn a college degree, demonstrated extreme discipline in becoming a successful triathlete, saved enough money to buy his own house before he turned 30, and took a big leap to change his life by heading west for graduate business school. Cecil was a source of comfort, guidance, and strength in Tim’s life. Their bond transcended the typical father-son relationship and was one of true friendship. Though they had varying hobbies and interests, what forged their bond was their kind hearts and a desire for the common good. Cecil may no longer be physically present, but his life force beats with an endless strength in Tim’s heart.
As a life partner, Cecil was extraordinary – kind, compassionate, loving, insightful, competent, faithful, and a valued advisor. He liked to tell the story of how he and Tanya met at her Halloween party in 1991, and how he had to work so hard to land a first date. Tanya always considered theirs an “arranged marriage,” as Cecil twice received a message before the Halloween party; when friends asked why he was travelling 1.5 hours for a Halloween party where he didn’t know anyone, he was surprised when two separate times what came out of his mouth was something unexpected, “I’m supposed to meet one of the hostesses.” Tanya nearly cancelled the date, but a friend told her this would be an extremely important date and she would drive her to it, if need be. The first date never ended: Cecil and Tanya never stopped talking, closing down the restaurant at midnight and then a nearby disco at 3:30am, and the rest is history. They loved being with each other under any and all circumstances and willingly stretched into each other’s interests and passions; Cecil became an excellent navigator when Tanya was still piloting small Cessnas, Tanya joined Cecil at ground school for drag racing and became pit crew; Cecil built Tanya’s garden fences and would bring a Valentine’s truckload of compost, and Tanya learned to cook wild turkey and enjoyed the fine art of toodling in his restored autos. Together, and often with Tim, they enjoyed active vacations and adventures, boating, hiking, biking, dancing, skydiving, and watching sunsets and sunrises.
Cecil lived a full, rich, rewarding life and had few regrets. Because of his near-death experience, he always believed the spirit continues beyond the expiration of the body. Numerous unusual experiences also led him to believe there are many forces beyond our understanding – whether it be lightening coming through a window and hitting the floor right in front of him with smoke and flames three separate times in one storm, or large trees falling in the dead quiet near him. Cecil leaves many legends in his wake, and his family hopes these will continue to bring light and laughter and wonderful memories to all those he knew for years to come.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in his name to the Fork Union Volunteer Fire Company. For the full version of Cecil’s obituary and more about his life please visit Sheridan Funeral Home website:
. If you have a story about any part of Cecil’s life, his family would welcome receiving these personally or through the memorial website:
A celebration of life will be held at 2pm on Sunday, April 2, 2023, at the Cunningham Creek Winery, 3304 Ruritan Lake Rd, Palmyra, VA 22963. In honor of Cecil, the winery is reserved for the whole day and please come at any time. People are encouraged to wear whatever is meaningful in how you related with Cecil; whether casual or dress, all are encouraged and welcomed.