Our beloved father, Gerald Fox, of Ladysmith, B.C., who was an environmental activist and jazz enthusiast, passed away on Sunday, Dec. 14, at Cairnsmore Place in Duncan, B.C. He was 84.
He was known for his spirited, outgoing personality and generous nature, both in San Diego, where he and his late wife raised their four children, and on Vancouver Island, the home he loved for the past 22 years.
Known to his friends as Gerry, the environmental movement of the 1960s strongly resonated with him, motivating him to become involved. He was a longtime environmental lobbyist for groups like the Planning and Conservation League of California, and his work also included helping to preserve natural habitats, giving presentations at local elementary schools and serving as a docent at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Gerry loved working with children and helping to inspire in them a lifelong love of learning and appreciation for the world around them.
Born May 5, 1930 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gerry was proud to be what is known as one of Dr. Martin Couney’s “Couney babies.” Born several weeks premature and weighing only 2 lbs., 5 oz., Gerry was put into one of Dr. Couney’s incubators on Coney Island because hospitals at that time were not equipped to handle infants in urgent need of special care. Visitors to Coney Island paid a dime to see the infants, and Gerry enjoyed telling the story of the unusual way that his survival was made possible.
Gerry grew up in Manhattan, N.Y., and his parents also maintained a farm in Bucks County, Pa., where he loved interacting with the animals and learned harness racing. A jazz aficionado from a young age, another highlight of his youth was, “haunting (New York City’s) 52nd St., which was the center of jazz at the time.” There, he met musician Sidney Bechet and singer Billie Holiday in jazz clubs and loved hearing them perform.
After graduating from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York, Gerry attended Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio, where he met his late wife, Bernita (nee Woollard). Married in 1950 in Ann Arbor, Mich., they celebrated 59 years of marriage before Bernita passed away in 2009.
Gerry served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War.
After moving to San Diego in the 1950s, Gerry earned bachelor and master’s degrees in Geography from San Diego State University.
Gerry believed in thinking positively, and even in the face of recent failing health, he wrote, “I am not going to let any of this get me down nor prevent me from enjoying life.” This glass-half-full attitude led him to being a longtime member of Optimist International.
Thus, although we have heavy hearts, Gerry would want us to continue his legacy of “Spreading Joy,” in keeping with the title of one of his favorite pieces of music by Sidney Bechet.
While living in San Diego and watching his children grow up, one of his favorite places to visit with his family was the 757-acre Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary in Lakeside, Calif. Resident naturalist, Frank Gander, took Gerry and his family on hikes, and Gerry fondly remembered Gander as a father figure and as someone who taught him a great deal about “being a human being.”
For Gerry, his wife and children, “family” included animals of all sorts, and while living in San Diego, dogs, cats, domestic rabbits, a mallard duck, chickens, guinea pigs, a chipmunk, a button quail and a wild pygmy brush rabbit rescued by Bernita all became part of the family. Gerry talked about this menagerie with a twinkle in his eye and referred to it as the Fox Family Zoo.
After retiring to Nanaimo, B.C., with his wife in 1992, they became Canadian citizens and enjoyed exploring the sights and dining at the restaurants of Vancouver Island together. Favorite spots included Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, Butterfly World and the “Goats on the Roof” Old Country Market in Coombs, Pioneer House Restaurant in Duncan and Alice’s Restaurant in Nanaimo.
Gerry’s hobbies included reading, especially mystery novels, and challenging himself with sudoku puzzles, but his greatest passion was music, especially jazz and Big Band-era swing. Aside from Sidney Bechet and Billie Holiday, other favorite artists included Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman.
Gerry and Bernita were also avid theater-goers and devoted supporters of community productions at the Nanaimo Theatre Group, Ladysmith Little Theatre and other venues in the surrounding area.
Gerry and Bernita moved to Ladysmith in 2007 so that Bernita could receive care at the Lodge on 4th. Gerry embraced everything about Ladysmith, and being civic-minded, he served as an elected member of the Ladysmith Seniors Advisory Council, specializing in improving transportation for seniors.
Some of his favorite activities in Ladysmith included visiting Salamander Books, browsing through the Ladysmith Library and viewing the work of local artists of Cowichan Valley on the Avenue. The Holland Creek Trail and Transfer Beach were some favorite natural sites. He especially enjoyed going to In the Bean Time cafe, not only for the great food and the opportunity to visit with friends and family, but also for the live music performances.
Giving back to the community was an important aspect of Gerry’s life, and his philanthropy included substantial gifts to the Planning and Conservation League of California, the San Diego Audubon Society and Malaspina University-College (now Vancouver Island University) of Nanaimo. In addition, he funded a gazebo at Nanaimo Community Gardens as a tribute to his wife and established a scholarship fund in his mother’s name at the Jane Addams Peace Association of New York.
Overall, Gerry’s life revolved around family, friends, nature and the arts. He loved to laugh, tell stories and listen to his children sing. On that note, we’d like to quote (while improvising a little) from a family favorite Woody Guthrie folk song, This Land is Your Land: “From California to Vancouver Island, From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, This land was made for you and me.”
Son of the late Arthur Gerald and Johanna Emma (Muench) Fox, and brother of the late Genevieve Paxton, he is survived by son and daughter-in-law Robert Fox and LucyLee Reuther of Columbus, Ohio; daughter Geralynn Fox of Lawrenceville, N.J.; daughter and son-in-law Ginger Rose Fox and Todd Jeffries of Lomita, Calif.; son Steven James Fox of San Diego; and his beloved cat companion of 18 years, Snowflake.
He is also survived by a niece and nephew-in-law, Joan and Hank Bliss of Chicago; nephew and niece-in-law, Kent and Esperanza Paxton of Los Gatos, Calif.; great-nephews and a great-niece; special friends, Janice and Paul Bouma; Lena Birtwistle; Steve Brock; Lisa and Chris Burness; Frieda Douglas; Bill and Sharon Hull; Ron Leonard and Linda Chapman; Cora and Jack Maier; Campbell and Kristy McIntyre and family; Julie and Jodie Moores; David O’Connor; Jim, Shannon and Kendall Patrick; Steve Robinson; and many other dear friends.
Special thanks to the staff at the Ladysmith Resources Centre and Seniors Centre, the veterinarians and staff at Ladysmith Animal Hospital and those from the VIHA and Home and Community Care Support network of Cowichan Valley who provided much appreciated assistance to Gerry and his late wife, Bernita.
A memorial service and New Orleans jazz-style celebration of Gerry’s life will be held at the family’s convenience.
Donations may be made to a nature conservation group, animal sanctuary or music education fund of the donor’s choice.
To send messages of condolence and to share memories of our dad,
please visit http://www.telfordsburialandcremationcentre.com/notices/Gerald-Fox/