Danny Cox often told his mother that he didn't think that funerals should be sad, suggesting that a clown be invited to each of them.

And on Sunday, his own memorial service at Petaluma High School's Durst Field certainly contained humorous moments, albeit mixed with deep sadness over his sudden passing when his treasured Dodge Magnum crashed into a tree north of Novato.

The turnout reflected the deep feeling for the 19-year-old Cox that developed during his battle to recover from a diving accident in Lake Tahoe last August that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

More than 1,000 people attended the service on the bright, sunny day, and many came adorned in black and yellow, Cox's favorite colors.

"I thought that it was fantastic. I couldn't have asked for anything better," said Chris Cox, his father. "I was moved that so many people in the community came out for him. I'm the proudest father in the world."

One of the highlights of the service was a walk around the track in Danny Cox's honor.

"I came up with the idea that morning, because he loved running and he loved the track," the father said.

He was among the walkers when he felt a surge of inspiration.

"I thought, &‘If Danny were here, he wouldn't be walking: He would be running,'" Cox said.

So, Cox, feeling the same lively spontaneity so often displayed by his son, began running between people, and his daughter, Emily, 25, soon joined him.

"It just happened. I'm not a runner: I have a bad knee," he said.

Cox and Emily both spoke at the service and Sophie, Danny's other sister, read a poem. Cox also had two brothers, Charlie, 9, and Jack, 2.

"I was so proud of my family," said Maureen McGowan, their mother. "I couldn't have done what they did."

Due to the sadness they were feeling, McGowan and Sophie, 22, had a particularly difficult time at the service and subsequent reception at the Mystic Theater.

"I felt such an incredible sadness," McGowan said. "We didn't want to be touched because it was too painful, and I had a hard time looking at people. Well-wishers wanted to hug, but we would cringe away from them.

"I want to make clear that I really did appreciate people's concern. But it was intensely difficult for me to interact with them."

McGowan was able to feel Cox's playful energy in the crowd, however.

"He had a great sense of humor. He didn't take himself or anyone else seriously," she said.

And she was particularly touched by Jack's reaction when three Dodge Magnums drove up during the service.

"He jumped up and yelled, &‘Danny's here!'" she said.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)