W. Shirell Fox bids fond farewell

Tue, 2012-07-24 09:35 -- univcomm

   Date: 6/22/2001

   Title: W. Shirell Fox bids fond farewell

While rummaging around in his dusty attic, W. Shirell Fox keeps discovering pieces of his life that are making it difficult for him and his wife to leave Indiana. In one box lay doorknobs from Old Main at AU, which was razed in 1968. The night before it was destroyed, Fox slipped inside and took all the vintage doorknobs from the classrooms, dorm rooms, and offices. In another box lay a 17-page handwritten marriage proposal written 60 years ago to his wife, Phyllis, as well as correspondence with family and friends during World War II. Fox plans on getting the letters bound. The doorknobs will be returned to AU--where he worked in public relations for almost four decades--as he says his good-byes. The Foxes are moving to Columbus, Ohio, at the end of July.

"This is a place you reach in your life and all of a sudden you realize you ought to be closer to family," Fox said.

The Foxes don't have any younger family members in the immediate area. Their daughter lives in Washington and their son in Columbus.

The signs were there for Fox to move on. A condominium across the street from his son came up for sale in January. And then when the Foxes put their house up for sale, it sold within 48 hours.

"There's a petition going around trying to keep him from leaving," joked Tom Bruce, director of University Relations at AU. "We consider Shirell a most beloved individual, a sterling example to others and a remarkable influence. I consider Shirell my mentor."

Fox first came to AU in 1948.

"When I came here, Scatterfield was a dirt road," said Fox, 81. "And now I recognize students' names and realize I knew their grandparents as students."

As an American Baptist minister, Fox quickly became known around campus jokingly as the "token Baptist" on the Church of God campus. But for 37 years, Fox was a lifeline for AU. He was the director of publicity, an instructor of journalism and an assistant to the president.

"I served under all four presidents at AU," Fox said.

He's brought influential and famous guests to campus including Charles Schultz and his favorite, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

"I fell in love with her at age 17 when I was at the White House for a Boy Scout Jamboree," Fox said. "And I got to drive her to campus from the airport when she visited.

"When I saw her, she walked right up to me and opened up her mink coat and said 'What you see is what you get.' I was stunned. I didn't know what to think. It turns out her luggage didn't arrive and she was stuck in the same dress she came in wearing on the plane her entire visit."

Beyond AU, Fox explored Boy Scouts of America. He began cubbing in 1930, during its experimental year and has been continuously registered as a member since 1933.

He was the Protestant chaplain for Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico and was one of only eight adult Boy Scout leaders in the nation invited to head the only world air tour of the Boy Scouts of America.

In 1981, he was awarded the Silver Antelope by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America -- for distinguished service of exceptional character to youth. This is only one of more than 25 honors bestowed on Fox throughout his lifetime.

As for work with the Lions Club International... Fox was the chaplain for District 25D and the state of Indiana as well as the past president for Anderson Lions Club and the past president and governor for District 25D.

"We hate to lose him," said John Purdy, past president of Anderson Lions Club, as he scooped ice cream for the YMCA Strawberry Fair. "You couldn't find a better person. He knows everybody and everybody knows or knows of him."

As if proving Purdy's point, a man standing nearby overhead the comments and said, "Shirell Fox? I don't know him. But I've heard of him. He's a good man who's done a lot."

Fox's roots stretch down to the founding days of Madison County. His family was among the first white settlers in the county arriving around 1815.

He was born and raised in Alexandria and met his wife while he worked at The Alexandria Times-Tribune and she attended high school. The school was on his reporter beat and he'd use the excuse of checking out what was going on in the school system to pay her visits while she was an assistant in the school's office.

Fox married in the area and then moved to Anderson when he became affiliated with AU. Madison County has always been Fox's home. And now its time to leave.

"I'm going to miss people; I'm going to miss the places, all the organizations," Fox said. "It's going to be a new experience for us. But being married 60 years, I think we're mature enough now to move away. I think we can make it."

--Writer Stacey Grosh is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin .