(BCN) — Michael E. Fox Sr., a longtime Silicon Valley philanthropist, has died.
Fox, 87, died of respiratory complications while ill on Nov. 3, according to his oldest son, Michael Fox Jr. Fox Sr. founded M.E. Fox & Company in 1965 alongside his wife, Mary Ellen Fox, and grew it to become one of the county’s largest beverage distributors. He is remembered as a strong force in Silicon Valley politics and for his advocacy across the region, supporting a variety of nonprofit causes ranging from educational to health to faith.
“He got things done,” Michael Fox Jr., CEO of Goodwill Silicon Valley, told San Jose Spotlight. “He just had the ability to bring the right people together to get any kind of difficult issue done.”
Fox Jr. said his father’s ability to cultivate relationships with people in the political and nonprofit spheres helped him advocate for causes he believed in.
He said his father’s Jesuit education and Catholic faith were a driving force in his work. Among his recognitions are two papal awards–from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
“It’s not just about believing in Christ and God,” Fox Jr. said. “It’s also about good work, and that’s what’s important. So we always have that sense that part of life was needing to perform good works.”
Fox Sr. cared about education, and chaired the board of regents for Santa Clara University and served on the board of regents for Bellarmine College Preparatory.
Mary Ellen Fox recounted her husband’s love of grocery stores and interest in what was being sold to consumers. She told San Jose Spotlight that even weeks before his death he wanted to peruse the local grocery store. When she was done shopping for groceries, he asked why she was hurrying him out of the store.
“He had a very large personality,” she said. “He was very generous and very warm … The two of us had quite an adventure together.”
The people they hosted at their home included former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Kamala Harris. Fox Sr. was instrumental in fundraising, with one such role being when he chaired United Way of Silicon Valley and raised nearly $15 million for the organization’s annual campaign, Fox Jr. told San Jose Spotlight.
Youngest son Terence Fox said he learned about leadership and business from his father. He said his father had him and his siblings work in various jobs across the distribution company to ensure they understood the actual work performed by the company’s employees.
“Sitting at dinner with him … was a lesson in life and business and management and the beer business,” he told San Jose Spotlight. “Everything was always an opportunity for him to teach me something.”
He added that his father had a “mischievous” side, and recounted in second grade when he was asked to do a project on his family history. When he asked Fox Sr. for insight on the family, his father lied that the family had a history of crime in Chicago, where he was born. After he read the report to his class, he had to explain to his teachers that this was the exact story his father told him, which he said they found comedic.
While former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he never worked directly with Fox Sr., he knew the Fox family growing up, as they attended the same schools and were family friends. He said Fox Sr. was “kind and affable,” and that leaders across the community appreciated his passion for supporting causes that would uplift others.
“I worked with a lot of people who worked directly with Mike and told me how important it was to have Mike engaged,” Liccardo told San Jose Spotlight. “Having Mike and Mary Ellen involved always elevated the impact of the work.”
Former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery worked with Fox Sr. on a committee in 2000 to locally address national concerns in the Catholic church. During that time, McEnery said they advocated together on a zero tolerance policy for credible pedophilia charges against any priest or cleric. The policy was eventually taken up at the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
McEnery said he once asked how Fox Sr. had the time to dedicate to so many causes, and his response was he “just set aside the time.”
“He made time, and I think it’s fair to say he probably made as much time for his family and other people as he did for any of these endeavors,” McEnery told San Jose Spotlight.
Mayor Matt Mahan said Fox Sr.’s legacy of generosity has left a deep impact in Silicon Valley.
“His most important legacy is his family who continue his unselfish service to our community,” Mahan said.
Fox Sr. is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen, children Michael Fox Jr., Dennis Fox, Catherine Bernal Bloyd, Mary Beth Suhr, Margaret Lewis and Terence Fox, and 16 grandchildren.
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