By Chip Towers
ATHENS – Like all coaches, Mark Fox preaches a lot about being strong, being tough. He’s walking the walk this week.
Fox’s father, Raymond Lewis Fox, died sometime Saturday. Fox is not exactly sure what time because he was on a plane trying to get back home to Garden City, Kan., to say goodbye before he passed.
He didn’t make it.
Fox was with the Bulldogs in Washington, D.C., on Friday night getting his team ready to face George Washington when he got word that the lung disease that had besieged his father in his late 70s was finally going to win out. Fox could have bolted the arena at that moment and headed home and he considered that. Then he thought the better of it.
“I might have thought for 10 seconds I should leave and go say my goodbyes, and then 10 seconds later I knew he wouldn’t want me to do that,” Fox said Monday from Athens.
Like Fox, his father was a coach. He coached basketball at Ellsworth High in Kansas at the same time Gene Keady was coaching at Beloit High in the same league. He also coached basketball at Medicine Lodge, Kan., and North Platt, Neb.. He also coached football for a while at Garden City Community College while also serving as a high school guidance counselor.
“My dad spent his life working with young people,” Fox said. “He didn’t even want his services to be during the season. This may be the first time I didn’t listen to him.”
No, Fox listened to his father and didn’t let his extended illness – and ultimately his death — interrupt Fox’s charge of coaching the Georgia basketball team, a difficult and all-consuming task. Fox as in the first chair with the Bulldogs as they lost to the Colonials 73-55 on Friday night. The loss dropped Georgia to 6-6 on the season.
Fox flew back with the team to Atlanta and hopped a plane home to Kansas on Saturday. He spent about 14 or so hours with his family in Garden City before flying back home to Athens on Sunday and resuming preparations for Wednesday’s SEC opener at No. 21 Missouri (12-1). When the Bulldogs fly to Columbia, Mo., on Tuesday, Fox will travel separately to attend 5 p.m. funeral services at the First United Methodist in Garden City 500 miles to the west. He’ll return in plenty of time for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. tip.
“My dad believed in coaching and education,” said Fox, his eyes beginning to mist ever so slightly. “He believed that, in life, there is a right way to do things. There’s a certain way to treat your wife, there’s a certain way to demand that young people function. There is, I think, a strength that’s required in leadership to be able to do that, because often it’s not popular. But ultimately I think the impact he made on me was, as a coach, as an educator, your obligation is to the student and the team.”
Raymond Lewis Fox was 78. Survivors include his wife, Elaine, and Mark’s brothers, Col. Scott Fox, of Cheyenne, Wyo., and David Fox, of Reno, Nev.
“It’s something everyone deals with in life,” Fox said of his father’s passing. “I’ll be there for my team.”