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Walter J. Fox Jr., author, journalist, and professor, dies at 89

Using clear, concise language, he wrote news stories, features, editorials, and obituaries (including his own) for many publications, including The Inquirer.

Walter and Fran Fox were married for 63 years.
Walter and Fran Fox were married for 63 years.Read moreCourtesy of the Family

Walter J. Fox Jr., 89, of Mount Airy, a versatile writer, longtime journalist, and retired professor at Temple and West Chester Universities, died of organ failure Sunday, Aug. 8, at ProMedica Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Hatboro. He had been suffering from kidney disease.

The author of Writing the News: A Guide for Print Journalists, Mr. Fox was proficient in many facets of communications. Beginning in 1955 and through last year, he worked as a writer and reporter for United Press International, the Norristown Times Herald, the National Catholic Reporter, and the Chestnut Hill Local.

Using clear, concise language, he wrote news stories, features, editorials, and obituaries (including his own) for many publications, including The Inquirer, as a staff writer and freelancer.

In 2012, he wrote in The Inquirer about his great-grandfather, Pvt. Joseph Serwazi, and his role in the Civil War. In 2009, he wrote about the decline of printed newspapers.

“If the newsprint newspaper eventually disappears as a form, it will take with it elements of our political and social life that we cannot afford to lose,” he wrote in The Inquirer.

In 2008, he addressed Philadelphia budget cuts that could result in the closure of public libraries. “Rather than cutting fat out of the budget, it cuts the heart out of the democratic process,” he wrote.

Mr. Fox also worked on the public relations staff at Fordham University, was director of public relations at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, ran his own public relations counseling agency, and was the publicity director in 1968 for Pennsylvania Citizens for Eugene McCarthy.

He retired in 1998 as journalism coordinator at West Chester after teaching at Temple’s Ambler campus from 1976-82. He also lectured at the University of Pennsylvania from 2002-07.

“He loved words,” said Fran Fox, his wife of 63 years. “He had this great curiosity, and he wasn’t afraid to ask questions.”

Dan Fox, the youngest of his four sons, said Mr. Fox “always found the angle of a story. He always got the money quote.”

Born Oct. 15, 1931, in West Philadelphia, Mr. Fox was raised in Lansdowne and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Joseph’s University in 1954 and a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1957.

After working in public relations and for newspapers, he began teaching journalism and helped countless students at Temple and West Chester discover their own voices and careers. At West Chester, he also taught American studies and was a faculty adviser to the student newspaper for 15 years.

He used his book, which has also been published in China, India, and Bulgaria, in his classroom, and sought to pass on his appreciation for civic engagement to his students.

“He was thoughtful, warm, and encouraging,” said Lynne Palazzi, a freelance writer and editor who studied at West Chester under Mr. Fox in the 1980s. “He expanded my horizons, gave me confidence, and made me well-rounded.”

Jonathan Van Meter, an acclaimed writer, author, and contributing editor at Vogue, also encountered Mr. Fox at West Chester in the 1980s.

“He changed my life,” Van Meter said. “I was drawn to him. He was different. He gave me direction as a writer. I loved him.”

At home, Mr. Fox tended to his tomato garden, played tennis and the banjo, pored over his family’s Irish history, and served on the board of East Mount Airy Neighbors. His son said he scored high on the bar exam when he was young but chose journalism over the law because “he liked to tell stories.”

“He was a strong, caring person,” said his wife.

Palazzi said, “Philadelphia was in his bones.”

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Fox is survived by sons Christopher, Brian, and Peter; a sister; seven grandchildren; and great-granddaughter Sarah June, who was born one day after his death. Services are to be later.

Donations in his name may be made to the Face to Face nonprofit human services organization, 123 E. Price St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144.