The Passing of William T. Fox

To the Williams community,

I write today with sad news of a retired faculty member who has passed away. William “Bill” T. Fox, Edward Brust Professor of Geology and Minerology, emeritus, who taught at the college for 35 years, died on February 12 in Williamstown. He was 86.

A lifelong teacher and lover of the outdoors, Bill’s areas of expertise included oceanography, environmental geology, sedimentation, remote sensing, and computer applications in geology. Of the many courses he taught, Bill most enjoyed teaching oceanography, as it combined his interest in geology and his love of the sea. He was also instrumental in integrating computers into the sciences. At the time of Bill’s retirement, longtime friend and colleague Bud Wobus, Edna McConnell Clark Professor of Geology, noted that he was the first faculty member in any department at Williams to use computers in research and teaching.

Bill grew up in Oak Park, Ill., the son of Edward and Mary Fox. After he graduated from Williams in 1954, he served in the U.S. Army and then graduated from Northwestern with a Ph.D. He returned to Williams as an instructor in the geology department and was named a full professor in 1973. A few years later, he was appointed Edward Brust Professor of Geology and Minerology. A prolific writer, Bill authored or co-authored more than 60 articles as well as wrote the widely appealing book At the Sea’s Edge: An Introduction to Coastal Oceanography for the Amateur Naturalist.

During his tenure at Williams, Bill was actively engaged in the community, serving on and chairing many academic and policy committees. He was an especially active contributor to the science programs, serving as chair of the geology department from 1982 to 1988. In addition, he participated in the planning and development of the Bronfman Science Center and served as its coordinator for three years shortly after it opened in 1969. Like many of his colleagues, Bud remembers Bill as “cheerful and easy-going. He brought effervescence to groups and was fun to be with.”

Over the years Bill won many grants and fellowships, including those from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. In 1986, with more than a million dollars in grants from the W.M. Keck Foundation, he helped to organize the Keck Geology Consortium, an organization that provides support for undergraduate research. Bill was the Consortium’s first director and served in this role for several years. More than 30 years later, the program continues to grow.

After his retirement in 1996, Bill led courses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College and served as faculty leader for Williams Alumni trips to Antarctica, the Galapagos, Wales and the Virgin Islands. “He was always an upbeat and engaged co-conspirator in interdisciplinary adventures,” says Hank Art, director of the Center for Environmental Studies, who taught a Winter Study course for two years with Bill on New England and the Sea. “He, and his easy laughter, will be sorely missed.”

Bill was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Edward. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Norma; children Stephen, Katherine and Amy; sisters Judy and Jane; several grandchildren; and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held for Bill Fox at Saints Patrick and Raphael Church in Williamstown, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, followed by a graveside service and a reception at the Williams College Faculty Club. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes memorial donations to the Supportive Day Program at the Ralph C. Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield, or to the Alzheimer’s Association of Western Massachusetts.

Our thoughts are with Bill’s family, colleagues and many friends.


Maud S. Mandel
Professor of History; Program in Jewish Studies