Campus & Community

John Bayley Fox Jr., who helped shape modern Harvard, dies at 86

Administrator steered School through troubled era

4 min read
John B. Fox Jr.

John Bayley Fox Jr. ’59

Harvard file photo

John Bayley Fox Jr. ’59, who helped open Harvard’s doors to women and people of color from 1967 until he retired in 2007, died Nov. 27, 2022, after a long illness. He was 86.

Beginning as director of the Office of Career Services, a position he held until 1971, Fox went on to serve as assistant dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1971 to 1976; dean of Harvard College from 1976 to 1985; administrative dean of the Graduate School Arts and Sciences from 1985 to 1992; and, finally, secretary of the Faculty and then senior adviser to the dean of the Faculty until his retirement.

A towering presence at 6 feet, 8 inches (“as tall as the trees” Thomas Bisson, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of Medieval History emeritus, would remember), Fox  stood out for his work to make Harvard more inclusive — what Marlyn McGrath, who served as assistant dean of Harvard College under Fox, called “the broadest accomplishment of his tenure as dean.”

“His conviction that Harvard College’s commitment to racial integration required specific institutional support drove many of his efforts including, notably, the establishment of the Harvard Foundation. That latter came at a time when many other colleges were encouraging, or at least tolerating, structural as well as cultural separatism. John was never afraid to defend Harvard’s distinctive institutional choices. He knew that Harvard was not just any place,” McGrath added.

Fox joined the Office of Career Planning at the beginning of the Vietnam war, “when graduates were anxious not to serve in the military,” he later wrote. “This resulted in a combination of trying to help young people who were draft dodgers, and at the same time seeking to find a place for themselves in the nation’s military establishments. This provoked, amongst other things, the Dow Chemical and CIA demonstrations at Harvard, which landed me in the national spotlight as an interpreter of the gilded, if deeply conflicted Harvard students of that era. It wasn’t an easy position to be in. If you were in the establishment in 1967, the students did not like you.”

In the 1970s, Fox was instrumental in reorganizing Harvard’s House system. The “Fox Plan” eventually moved all first-year women and men into dorms in Harvard Yard, and incorporated the former Radcliffe Quad dorms into the House system.

In 1985, Fox stepped down as dean of the College to assume the role of administrative dean of the Graduate School Arts and Sciences. Here Fox proposed and created a graduate center.

“I am particularly grateful for his role in the creation of a graduate center for our students, which has grown to become the GSAS Student Center in Lehman Hall,” said Emma Dench, now dean of GSAS. “That our students have a place to gather and engage with one another outside of their academic work is due in no small part to Dean Fox’s efforts.”

As secretary of the Faculty, Fox took pleasure in collaborating on the redecoration of the Faculty Room in University Hall, and in identifying and recruiting the artist who would paint the first portrait of a female professor to hang there, astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. He is remembered in that position for his “deep knowledge of Harvard and strong, thoughtful ideas about how it should function,” according to Susan Lively, who now fills the post.

“Almost nothing escaped his attention as he worked with both devotion to the institution and a critical eye to making it better,” said Thomas Dingman, whom Fox hired in 1976 to be director of the Harvard-Radcliffe Parents Association and assistant to the dean of Harvard College.

Born in Cambridge to John Bayley Fox ’28, a dean at Harvard Business School, and Eunice Jameson Fox, a prize-winning sculptor, Fox was educated at Harvard and Oxford universities. On his return to the States, Fox joined the Commonwealth Fund of New York City, where he managed the Harkness International Fellowship Program, bringing 60 scholars a year to U.S. universities.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Julia “Judy” Garrett Fox; two children, Sarah Cleveland Kreckel, Ed.M.’97 of Göttingen, Germany, and Thomas Bayley Fox ’95 of Chestnut Hill, Mass. and their spouses; two grandchildren, Hannah Grace Kreckel and John Alexander Fox, and two step-grandchildren Anika Maris Kreckel and Maximilian Bellone Kreckel.

The interment of Fox’s ashes will be in Andover, Maine, a town his ancestors settled in the late 18th century. No additional services are planned at this time.