Real Estate Developer Richard J. Fox Dies at 92

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Richard J. Fox in 1983
Richard J. Fox in 1983 (Photo by Scott Weiner)

Richard J. Fox, a prominent real estate developer, entrepreneur, political activist and philanthropist, died at his home on Feb. 9. He was 92.

The Fox Cos., his eponymous real estate management and building development venture, counts 401 City Avenue, the Wachovia Center (now the Wells Fargo Center) and the town of Chesterbrook among its many accomplishments. He started the company in 1953 with his brother, Bob, who would go on to become the president, CEO and chairman of Warner Co. Fox also started a big-data analytics company called Planalytics with his son, Fred.

Fox’s legacy as a builder, for better or for worse, is Chesterbrook, according to his son, Harry.

In 1969, when Richard Fox bought the massive parcels of land that he was to turn into Chesterbrook, he could not have known that it would be eight full years until the first home was finally built. He battled residents of local communities who opposed the development of the 865-acre planned community, reportedly at a ratio of nine to one.

The debate went all the way to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania before Richard Fox prevailed, and he was finally able to develop the land. It was 23 years, from purchase to completion and, today, Chesterbrook is home to about 4,600 people, the Chesterbrook Shopping Center, 1.1 million square feet of office space and Wilson Farm Park.

Richard Fox, as would befit a man willing to see such a fight through to the end, was an admirer of the works of Ayn Rand, and put great stock into the idea of the entrepreneur shaping the world through force of will, according to Harry Fox. He even met Rand once, a few years before her death.

His admiration for intellectual life went beyond his individual interest. For more than five decades, Richard Fox was a leader of Temple University. He served as a board member from 1967 until his death, and was board chairman from 1983 until the new millennium. Toward the end of his tenure, the Board of Trustees recognized Fox’s lifelong commitment to the university by affixing his name to the School of Business and Management.

His time as board chairman overlapped with the tenure of Peter Liacouras as university president. Liacouras expressed great admiration for Richard Fox, once saying that his devotion to the school was second only to that of Russell Conwell, the founder and first president of Temple. Richard Fox was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1993 and the Alumni Association’s Diamond Award in 1996, its highest award for non-alumnus.

The school held a memorial service for Richard Fox on Feb. 11.

“Dick Fox had a tremendous and lasting impact on Temple University,” Temple President Richard Englert said in a statement to The Temple News. “We recognized the many ways he made Temple better by naming the Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management in his honor; but the truth is he honored us with his time, his dedication and his ongoing support.”

Richard Fox also took part in political activism and community building. He was president of the Pennsylvania Home Builders Association, and chair of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. He was a board member of (what was then called) The Federation of Jewish Agencies of Philadelphia and previously served as president and chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee and board chair of the Moss Rehabilitation Hospital. He wore his Zionism proudly, and helped arrange for the Dead Sea Scrolls to be brought to the United States. He also chaired the Jewish Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

He was a longtime supporter of the Republican Party, with his vote and his voice. He was the Pennsylvania state chairman of the 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign and, in 1985, he helped to create the Republican Jewish Coalition, serving as its first chairman. In 1988, he served as national finance chairman of Jack Kemp’s presidential campaign.

Richard J. Fox in his navy days
Richard J. Fox, in his Navy days (Courtesy of the Fox Family)

Richard Fox led a full life outside of his work. He enlisted late in World War II and, though he never saw combat, he was trained as a pilot and served in the Navy during the Korean War. He spent his life flying planes when he could, only stopping within the last decade. Between the wars, he earned a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech University, right around the time that he met his wife of 67 years, Geraldine Dietz.

That full life, according to Harry Fox, included his family. When Fred Fox was hospitalized as a young boy, Harry Fox said, it spurred Richard Fox to spend a greater share of his time with his five children, to all of their benefit.

“He really imbued in all of us, in very different ways, a set of values that I think is kind of dying today,” Harry Fox said.

Richard Fox was born in 1927 and grew up in the Germantown-Mt. Airy neighborhoods. He graduated from Central High School.

He is survived by his wife, Geraldine Dietz Fox; his five children, Harry, Jennifer, Frederic, Celia and Michael; daughters-in-law Robin Atkinson Fox and Jen Fox, son-in-law Patrick Lindenmaier, and soon-to-be son-in-law David Brian Lee; his seven grandchildren; his brother, Robert Fox, his sister-in-law Penny Fox, and their children and families.

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