Bill Fox, De La Salle benefactor, dies at 87

WARREN, Mich. – Bill Fox, the alumnus who made history at De La Salle Collegiate nine years ago by giving the school its largest-ever donation, died Thursday following a long illness.

Mr. Fox was 87.

The $5 million donation from Mr. Fox is the largest in the school’s history and completed its 2004 capital campaign. The philanthropic gift was used to help with the construction of a chapel, academic wing, science labs, music room, and extensive technological upgrades.

The reason for the generous gift, Mr. Fox said during a check presentation, was the impact the school had on his own life.

“Bill's gift to the school in the early 2000s was a transformative donation, impacting the lives of future generations of Pilots,” De La Salle President John M. Knight said. “Bill loved the Christian Brothers and their lay partners. Please pray for the repose of Bill's soul and the consolation of his family.”

Today, the Fox name is prominently displayed throughout De La Salle, most notably in the school lobby, the Bill Fox Gymnasium and the Bill Fox Academic Wing. The academic wing is home to the science labs as well as the art and engineering departments.

Mr. Fox was also a major donor to Rochester College, PBS, Beaumont (Crittenton Hospital), The Capuchin Soup Kitchen, the Rochester Rotary Club, and Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Mr. Fox was one of Michigan’s most successful automotive dealers, with Chevrolet, Volkswagen, and Toyota dealerships in Rochester, and a Ford dealership in Battle Creek.

He bought his first dealership in Rochester Hills in 1967. A year later he added a body shop and expanded the used vehicle operation. A significant change came again in 1983 when Mr. Fox was awarded a Jeep-Eagle franchise. By 1984, a new facility was completed for Chevrolet and Jeep-Eagle settled in at the existing location. In 1991, a new collision center and used vehicle showroom were completed. 

A consistent benefactor, Mr. Fox has actively supported De La Salle’s goal of making a Lasallian Catholic education affordable for all students. Mr. Fox and his 1950 classmate, Tony Mattar, were honorees at the school’s 24th annual Christian Brothers Dinner, in 2005.

Then Mr. Fox reflected on his education at De La Salle.

“It seems just yesterday I was a student here, getting an education that was priceless,” he said. “One of our teachers, Br. Brendan Patrick, used to say at least once a day, ‘Be a tree. And if you can’t be a tree, be a bush. And if you can’t be a bush, be a blade of grass. But be the best at whatever you do.’ ”

Mr. Fox was a devoted outdoorsman, he was an avid hunter and fly fisherman, sailor, and pilot. He was a charter member of Great Oaks Country Club and a snow skier. He turned countless friends and family on to these sports, especially at the family homes he created in Vail and Snowmass, Colorado. Mr. Fox’s Clam Lake home was his homage to his own father’s horse farm in Northern Michigan. A vast and beautiful retreat where extended family and friends could play, swim, fish, and hunt.

Mr. Fox is survived by his wife, Shirlee, six children, 17 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be Sunday and Monday from 2-8 p.m. with a scripture service at 7 p.m. Monday at Modetz Funeral Home, located at 100 East Silverbell Road in Orion, Mich. The funeral mass will be Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Irenaeus Catholic Church in Rochester Hills.

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