Robert Allen Fox, a well-known businessman and philanthropist donating to major institutions around Philadelphia, died at home Wednesday, April 14, of pneumonia. He was 91.
Mr. Fox grew up in the Germantown and Mount Airy neighborhoods and graduated from Central High School where he was captain of the football team. He went on to study economics at the University of Pennsylvania and played football there under coach George Munger.
After graduating from Penn in 1952, he formed a home construction company with his late brother Richard. They built houses across the Philadelphia region, and, in 1961, Robert A. Fox was elected president of the Philadelphia Home Builders Association.
He then joined Warner Concrete, serving as its president until 1979. During his tenure, he used Warner to build landfills and enter the waste management business, acquiring over 25 garbage and landfill companies and renaming the company Waste Resources.
In 1979, Mr. Fox left and founded RAF Industries with the acquisition of a lumberyard in Wilmington, Del., and transformed RAF into a holder of building product companies such as Purdy, Bestt Liebco, and others. Over time, RAF diversified into consumer products and health care.
Mr. Fox served on Penn’s Board of Trustees from 1985 until his death. In 1999 he founded the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at Penn and endowed three professorships. Mr. Fox received Penn’s Alumni Award of Merit in 1999, the highest award presented to Penn alumni.
“He was forever loyal to the Red and Blue,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann and Board of Trustees Chair David L. Cohen, in a joint statement. “Penn could not ask for a more able leader or a more dedicated friend and mentor.”
Mr. Fox’s donation and fund-raising campaign transformed the Wistar Institute from a little-known research center on Penn’s campus into a leading cancer research center and vaccine developer.
The Wistar Institute subsequently named its $100 million, seven-story biomedical research building, at its Spruce Street campus in University City, for Robert and Penny Fox.
The Wistar building, opened in 2014, was funded with $18 million in taxpayer-funded Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grants, $55 million borrowed from Citizens Bank, and $25 million from the $35 million capital campaign led by Mr. Fox.
Aside from Penn and Wistar, the couple were also major donors to Drexel and Temple Universities, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Moore College of Art. .
Penn issued a statement Friday: “It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of our beloved friend and Emeritus Trustee Robert A. Fox,” the university said in a press release.
“As a loyal alumnus, keen businessman, and loving family man, Bob was an inspiration to us all. He shared his wisdom freely, and truly enjoyed the exchange of ideas, learning as much as he taught.”
His brother Richard is the named benefactor of Temple University’s Fox business school, which Mr. Fox also supported.
Robert Fox and his wife founded the Frederic Fox Lecture in Leadership series at the Fox School to honor his father.
“He also helped fund the construction of Alter Hall,” recalled Ronald Anderson, dean of the Fox School. “It’s fitting that part of Robert’s legacy is helping to create a backdrop like Alter Hall, which is used daily to educate the next generation of business leaders.”
Fox also was a board member of the Philadelphia 1976 Bicentennial Corporation, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Presidents Organization, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Gesu School, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Fox was married for 68 years to his wife, Esther “Penny” G. Fox; they met when they were teenagers.
He is survived by her, children Debra Fox, Nancy Fox (Jon Edwards), Amy Fox (Daniel Wheeler), and Kenneth Fox (Ana), and nine grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his parents, Frederic and Zena Fox, his brother Richard, and his son James.
Due to the pandemic, funeral services conducted by Joseph Levine & Sons were private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to the Wistar Institute (wistar.org/robertfox) or to the University of Pennsylvania.