Robert Allen Fox, a businessman and philanthropist whose contributions and leadership often benefited Jewish organizations in Philadelphia, died at home on April 14 from pneumonia. He was 91.
Fox was born in 1929 to Frederic and Zena Fox, and grew up in Germantown and Mt. Airy. His brother, Richard Fox, was also a businessman and philanthropist, and is the namesake of Temple University’s Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management.
The Central High School graduate was an All-Public League football player and played football at the University of Pennsylvania while he studied economics. Though he graduated in 1952, Fox remained enmeshed with the university until his death.
Fox met his wife, Esther “Penny” G. Fox, when they were teenagers. They were married until his death — 68 years.
With his brother, Fox created a home construction company that was soon building houses across Philadelphia and, in 1961, he was elected president of the Philadelphia Home Builders Association.
Fox was also part of the Warner Concrete Co., serving as its president until 1979. He led the charge to bring Warner into the waste management business, which transformed Warner Concrete into Waste Resources. Eventually, Waste Resources was eclipsed only by Waste Management and Browning-Ferris Industries, according to Fox’s son, Ken Fox.
“Over time, as the world evolved and the business evolved, he really evolved with it,” Ken Fox said.
Fox then founded RAF Industries, beginning with the acquisition of a lumber yard in Wilmington, Delaware. RAF became a leading acquirer of building product companies, but Fox wanted to keep expanding, and pushed the company into developing consumer products, health care and other services.
Rick Horowitz, who joined RAF in 1991, said that the greatest among Fox’s strengths was his high character in dealings with others. When he first heard about Fox from his friends, that was what they emphasized.
“And I will tell you, 30 years later, that they were right,” said Horowitz, today the president and chief operating officer of RAF. “Very simply, Bob never compromised on values.” (Robert Fox was Mr. Fox to some, Bob to others, and Bobby to some close friends, but never a Robert, according to Horowitz).
Fox “loved people,” said Ken Fox, a sentiment echoed by Horowitz and Fox’s daughter, Debra Fox. “If he walked into a room,” Ken Fox said, “he would ask people questions. He’d be super enthusiastic about what they were doing.”
For Debra and Ken Fox, their father could be hard-charging and loving, often at the same time. He expected results, according to his son, but it was constructive, and he wasn’t afraid to admit he was wrong.
“He loved all of his kids,” Debra Fox said. “He was so supportive, emotionally, of all of us.”
Fox used his wealth and connections to build up the Wistar Institute, an independent biomedical research institute. Fox joined Wistar’s board of trustees in 1974, chairing the board from 1984-1994. He led a five-year, $35 million capital campaign to support the construction of Wistar’s Robert and Penny Fox Tower and, today, Wistar is known internationally for its contributions to vaccine development.
A graduate of Penn, Fox served on the university’s board of trustees from 1985 until his death. The Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at Penn, which he founded in 1999, has had the participation of more than 10,000 undergraduates since its inception. That same year, Fox received Penn’s Alumni Award of Merit, the highest award presented to Penn alumni.
In addition to Penn, Fox supported Drexel University, Temple University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Ballet, Moore College of Art and other local institutions. He was a board member of the Philadelphia 1976 Bicentennial Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Gesu School, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the American Jewish Committee, where he served as chairman and president of the board of the Philadelphia chapter. At the Fox School of Business, Fox founded the Frederic Fox Lecture in Leadership series in honor of
Fox is survived by his wife, Esther “Penny” G. Fox; his children, Debra Fox, Nancy Fox (Jon Edwards), Amy Fox (Daniel Wheeler), and Kenneth Fox (Ana); and nine grandchildren.
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