As regular readers of this newspaper know, recent weeks have seen the passing of many local luminaries, individuals whose contributions to the community will be remembered for years to come. They include Patrick Lyons, who directed Catholic Relief Services in both Cameroon and Gambia; Alex Papianou, a chemical engineer at the Foxboro Company; former Planning Board member John Sheehan; and, just this week, former Foxboro Housing Authority director Peg Adams.
But we surely would be remiss in failing to note the passing of Edward Fox, who died in Florida this past October and who will be laid to rest this Saturday at Rock Hill Cemetery. More than three decades after a 1985 career move spirited him away from Foxboro, Ed Fox’s influence on the community, its institutions and governance remains profound. He was, quite simply, a heavyweight — a pivotal figure at a critical time in Foxboro’s history. It hardly stretches the point to say that his visionary leadership and sound decision-making in the 1960s and ‘70s helped lay the foundations for the modern suburb (warts and all) that we know today.
Consider that in 1976, when Fox stepped down from his final term as an elected official, Foxboro was reeling from two decades of explosive growth. Its population had nearly doubled since 1955, when the post-war urban disaspora drew a generation of young families to newly constructed neighborhoods in countless small towns like Foxboro. Coincidentally, that year also saw the first class to graduate from the town’s new high school on South Street, the last in a series of district building projects required to absorb ballooning enrollment.
Needless to say, such breakneck growth, fueled in part by the town’s convenient location at the crossroads of Route 1 and Interstates 95 and 495, taxed both existing infrastructure and municipal services. Fortunately, local voters correctly sensed that Ed Fox had what it took to help Foxboro address these, and other, issues while steering the town through tumultuous times.
And what times they were. It would hardly be stretching the point to characterize Fox as a low-key counterweight to the higher-octane Jerry Rodman — who filled Fox’s seat on the Board of Selectman in 1970, and who Fox replaced three years later when Rodman opted to step down after a single term. Each in his own way tackled the myriad challenges of a town in transition, while fighting to preserve the essence of its character and unique culture.
If Rodman had been the primary catalyst for moving the New England Patriots to Foxboro, Fox subsequently dealt with the early operational and political challenges of professional football on Route 1. He also spearheaded the town’s successful response to a six-month state probe involving the town’s cable TV license and helped usher in the era of professional municipal management by hiring Foxboro’s first town administrator — a signature moment for a man dedicated to responsive government. All told he spent 15 years in public office — single terms on both the Advisory Committee and Planning Board then three, three-year terms on the Board of Selectmen.
For his efforts, Fox in 1980 was recognized by The Foxboro Reporter as Town Official of the Decade. Fittingly, he shared equal billing with Rodman, who was named Humanitarian of the Decade, and Alma Conway, honorary mayor during the bicentennial year of 1978, who was named Citizen of the Decade. The Reporter praised Fox for his patience, principle and preparation — qualities which served him well over the years and which, of course, benefitted the community as well.
Less noticed, perhaps, but more revealing, were Fox’s own words upon leaving elected office, made in a 1976 interview with the Patriot Ledger.
“Once you get into town government, you get so close to the people and issues you’re dealing with you can lose sight of the reason you ran in the first place — be it change or anything else. I think you should take a step back to look around and listen for different points of view. You get a different perspective.”
More than four decades later they still resonate as sound counsel for anyone entrusted with the public’s business. And for someone who gave so much of himself to his adopted hometown, there couldn’t be a more fitting requiem.