A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Marilyn Fox


Marilyn Fox, who brought a gentle but determined and down-to-earth touch to the leadership of many St. Louis organizations over a period of decades, died peacefully Sunday of natural causes, surrounded by her loved ones.  She was 89.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 11 a.m. at Temple Israel in Creve Coeur. Burial will be private.

Beginning in the 1980s and continuing for more than 30 years, Mrs. Fox was a fixture atop more than a dozen St. Louis area cultural, educational and social service organizations, from the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Missouri History Museum to the Old Newsboys Day Campaign for Kids to the United Way of Greater St. Louis. The organizations with which she was perhaps most closely identified over the years, however, were St. Louis Variety, the Children’s Charity; Webster University; and the Jewish Community Center.

At St. Louis Variety, she chaired the annual fundraising gala for more than 20 years, raising millions of dollars on behalf of children with disabilities. Her devotion to children with special needs and their families was unmatched. For a woman and mother who was so accomplished on the world’s stage, she possessed a particular admiration, humility, and respect for mothers of children with special needs. 

“Marilyn effortlessly forged connections with Variety Kids, sharing in their steadfast optimism,” notes Variety Board Chair, Mike Lefton. 

At Webster she served for years on the board of trustees until stepping down about a decade ago.    At the Jewish Community Center, she was elected, in 1992, as the first female president, and later also chaired a successful $18 million capital campaign for a satellite facility in Chesterfield.  The Marilyn Fox Building, a fitness and education center, opened in 1997.

“She was everywhere, and she was always prepared to say ‘yes,’” said Barry Rosenberg, who, as chief executive of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, worked with her for many years.  “There was hardly a worthy cause in St. Louis, in the Jewish community or outside it, that she wasn’t prepared to get behind.  She had a vision for community.  And she was willing to get down in the trenches to see her efforts through.

“Her leadership was sound, humble, and moral,” he added. “She exhibited a very helpful skepticism. She’d ask a lot of good questions, and she could stand her ground. At the same time, she was extraordinarily gracious and inclusive. She’d talk to anyone.  She’d ask about your family. She truly cared about people.

“And she got results.”

That assessment was echoed by Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, on whose Board of Trustees Mrs. Fox served in the 1990s.  “As she did for so many St. Louis organizations, Marilyn quietly and effectively made things happen,” he said.  “She was a consistent source of ideas – for collaborations with scientists in other countries, for example — and she had the unusual ability to turn her ideas into realities.”

Born Marilyn Widman in St. Louis, she was one of three children of the late Arden Widman and Celia Bass, both Lithuanian immigrants. Her father was a general manager for a national retail store chain.  She grew up in the Delmar Loop, which she recalled fondly as a lively, friendly neighborhood where she made childhood friendships that lasted a lifetime. She graduated from University City High School.

During her senior year in high school, she met a recent Washington University graduate, Sam Fox, at a party.  At age 19, after just one semester of her own at Washington University, she married the young man, and left the university so she could get a job and contribute to the couple’s support.

The next year, however, she became pregnant with the couple’s first child.  Over the next decade, she and Mr. Fox became the parents of, in order, Cheri, Pamela, Jeff, Greg and Steven. All but Greg, who died in 2016, survive her.

About 15 years after the birth of her youngest, with the children established and her husband’s business, Harbour Group, thriving, Mrs. Fox found her way to community work, and never looked back.

For most of her life, she once said, she had not thought of herself as a leader.  But the more she got involved with community activities, and the more strongly she felt about them, the more capable she felt about putting herself forward.

And put herself forward she did.  Among the other organizations she served over the years were the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, where she served as president and campaign chair of the Women’s Division as well as board secretary and a member of the executive committee; Jewish Family & Children’s Services; Central Agency for Jewish Education; the Girl Scouts, where she was vice president of the board and a member of the executive committee; the National Council of Community and Justice; Women of Achievement, where she was board chair for two terms from 2003 to 2005; and more.

To all of these organizations she brought a leadership style that was soft-spoken and humble but also firm. Adding to her effectiveness were her genuine interest in others and a lack of interest in self-promotion.

Mrs. Fox’s service brought her numerous awards and honors. She was a Woman of Achievement in 1993 and the Variety Club’s Woman of the Year in 1996. She received the Brotherhood Sisterhood Award from the National Conference of Community and Justice in 1998 and the Magen Ami “Star of My People” award from the Women’s Division of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis in 2001. The Old Newsboys gave her their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. In 2009 she received the Thomas Jefferson Award from the Missouri History Museum; in 2012, the Visionary Award from Webster University; and in 2013 an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Washington University.

Along with her husband she received an honorary Doctorate of Public Service from St. Louis University in 2000 and the university’s Sword of Ignatius Loyola Award in 2009; the Excellence in Philanthropy Award in 2004 from the Arts and Education Council, and the Whitney and Jane Harris Community Service Award, also in 2004, from Washington University.

None of it went to her head.  She remained the same unassuming, gentle person she had always been, and kept her focus – despite all her community service – on her husband, her children, her grandchildren and her great- grandchildren.

“I hope the theme of my life,” she said in a 2015 interview, “was living in happiness and teaching that to my kids.  I hope it was being part of the community and trying to help people and be kind to other people. I hope that’s what it was.”

Surviving are her husband, Sam Fox; daughters Cheri Fox and Pamela (Aba) Fox Claman of Israel; daughter-in-law Merle (the late Greg), of St. Louis; sons Jeff (Lotta) and Steven (Nan), of St. Louis; 15 grandchildren; and 4 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to a charity of your choice.

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