Bob Cozens: Public Service Personified

The Cozens family has a long history of being active in the community—and indeed the country—from the arrival in the early 1880s of Tom and Jimmy Cozens to the present. Bob Cozens (pictured during his college football years) is the great-grandson of E.G. and Jane Hammond, whose house, Sunset Ranch, was the indisputable social hub of late-19th-century Encinitas. Bob’s grandmother, Annie, youngest of the seven Hammond children who emigrated from England in 1883, was married to Tom Cozens and known as a force to be reckoned with. A member of the board of trustees at the one-room Encinitas schoolhouse that grandson Bob attended up to eighth grade, Annie was also the author of A Brief History of Encinitas. Another major influence in helping shape Encinitas, Bob’s father, Bert, owned a successful grading business that was vital to the development of Leucadia. Bob Cozens first served his country at the age of 23 when, as a B-17 bomber squadron commander stationed in England, he flew 25 missions that earned him several medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross. Bert and Grace Cozens felt it their patriotic duty to send their sons, Bob, Tom, and Dick, overseas as part of the Army Air Forces, but the family paid the ultimate sacrifice when both Tom and Dick were killed in action. Bob went on to become the first county supervisor to be selected from Encinitas, a job he relinquished only when Ronald Reagan personally appointed him head of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Now in his 90s and long since retired, Bob looks back proudly on a life of public service—and far beyond that, to a time when he could still run barefoot among his father’s horses and cattle on what is now El Camino Real. (Image Courtesy of Cozens family.)

As a writer, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting quite a number of rock stars, actors and (in)famous politicians, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so honored as when Bob Cozens invited me into his home last summer. I was uncharacteristically speechless to find myself in the presence of a legendary local with such a palpable connection to the city’s past.Here was a man who, as a baby, had been dandled on the lap of Annie Hammond Cozens, one of the very first pioneers to settle in Encinitas, and a direct descendent of the family that had doubled the town’s population when they so courageously stepped off the train at the Encinitas whistle stop in 1883.Bob was just four years old when he got his first job during the summer of 1923 helping the local farmers as they trundled their horse-drawn hay balers from farm to farm. By harvest’s end he had earned the princely sum of $3.

He ended his working days as Director of the California DMV – a fitting occupation for a boy who got his first driver’s license at the age of 14 driving solo through the empty streets of Encinitas while a motorcycle patrol officer followed at a safe distance.

Robert Charles Cozens died on April 2 this year, which made it all the more poignant that I should have met him when he was still full of tall tales and sparkling wit. He has been called a “superb representative of the greatest generation” and indeed we will not see his like again.

When, during Bob’s final months, Tom Cozens asked his dad what he considered to have been his proudest achievement, Bob unhesitatingly replied: “having been given the opportunity to serve my family, my community, my county, my state and my country”. – Alison Burns is president of the Encinitas Historical Society and author of Legendary Locals of Encinitas

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