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Bill Fox

Geology and Mineralogy

By Clive Hulick Connor

When I think back to my years at Williams, there were a number of "adults," both professors and staff, who had an impact on my life, mostly for the good. There were a few who challenged me in a negative way as we women made our way into the life of a previously all male college. However, I prefer to think about those people who were incredibly supportive.

The most supportive person during my time at Williams, and whom I was later privileged to call my good friend, was William T. Fox. He was a member of the class of 1954 and was a Professor in the Department of Geology and Mineralogy (now known as Geosciences). He taught Oceanography courses along with other "soft rock" courses such as Sedimentation. His oceanography courses were very popular with the non-science majors who needed to fulfill their Division 3 requirement. Teaching courses commonly called "Rocks for Jocks," he was able to connect with these students and get them thinking about our ocean/coastal world and not only about how the science works but also why it was important to protect these areas. Remember that this was in the early days of the environmental movement and so this was an important task.

Bill Fox was an alumnus who believed strongly in co-education and, in a department in a traditionally male dominated field, he was a strong supporter of the three women of our class who were majors (KK DuVivier, Olina Jonas and me). He didn't think that any of us should feel "less than" and encouraged us to step up!

I want to share a few stories which exemplify this for me.

I went to Williams with the intention of majoring in Biology and later I was planning to go to graduate school and obtain an advanced degree in Marine Biology. I had dreams of becoming Jacques Cousteau's right hand woman, or some such position. When a sophomore, I took Bill's Oceanography courses (Geo 103/104) and was so impressed with his excellent teaching. Once he learned of my interest in marine biology, Bill began a campaign to have me change my major/department and come over to Geology. He succeeded and at the end of my sophomore year, I switched over. He actively took on a role of mentoring me as I navigated the courses needed.

Most geology majors go to Geology "Summer Field Camp" in their junior year where they learn field techniques. As an oceanography/coastal geology student, my needs were different. Bill came to Tom Getz, who was similarly interested in oceanography and coastal geology, and me and told us about an opportunity to serve as interns aboard a ship doing research in the Atlantic Ocean. When I said that women were not allowed on board Naval ships, he told me that the application did not ask for one's gender and with my traditionally male name and coming from a traditionally male college, that I should just apply and see! Remember that this was right after Title IX came in and lawsuits over gender discrimination were becoming more common. Well, Tom and I applied and we were both accepted!

After my acceptance, I told the Naval Office handling the internship that I was actually female! My mother was particularly concerned about sleeping arrangements! The result was that they simply changed the date of when Tom and I should report, moving it up by a couple of days. When Tom and I arrived at the ship, the USNS Lynch, in the Norfolk (VA) Naval Yard. Tom was allowed to board but I was stopped from boarding. No woman could go aboard! I showed the man my letter of acceptance. He took the letter and after reminding me to stay on the dock, he left to find the captain. A little while later, a man disembarked carrying a duffle bag and the first man then told me that I could come on board. It turned out that the man with the duffle bag was the Captain who refused to sail with a woman on board. We later got a new Captain who made it clear that he was not happy with the arrangement but for his own reasons, could not refuse the assignment. And I got my own cabin, to my mother's great relief! It was not all smooth sailing after that but in the interest of shortening this essay, I will say that I did learn a lot about research on the open ocean and broke down a barrier to women on ships - all because Bill Fox encouraged me to do so!

Coming back from that cruise, I decided that I really wasn't interested in doing research full-time but rather decided that I could make more of a difference in protecting the ocean and coastal environment by teaching about it in either the classroom or in public venues. Again, Bill Fox stepped up in encouraging me in these areas, first by employing me as his Teaching Assistant in his two Oceanography courses. He actually sought my opinions about how to teach certain aspects in the classroom and the labs, despite being an excellent teacher himself. He made me feel seen and heard. He then asked me to co-teach (not just assist) a Winter Study Course on the New England Coast. We taught the students about the coastal and oceanographic geology and maritime history of the coast from Maine to Connecticut, culminating in a week-long field trip along the coast staying on various college campuses and even on a ship at the Mystic Museum (where later Prof. Ben Labaree was to establish the Williams at Mystic Program). Bill and I took responsibility for different subjects and parts of the field trip and I was truly treated as his equal! I learned so much about the "art" of teaching from him.

Finally, I left Williams and taught for four years before heading to Graduate School for a MS in Coastal Geology at Boston College. I contacted Bill when I decided to go to graduate school and he helped me select the programs to apply to and the professors to potentially work with. I always knew that Bill was well respected in his field but when I met these professors, I learned just how much. The department at BC was quite small and when it came time to research and write my thesis, there weren't three professors who felt knowledgeable enough to act as my thesis advisors and readers. I contacted Bill about my problem and once again, he stepped up! Bill acted as my thesis advisor, without any compensation except my undying gratitude, and did more for me than my primary advisor at BC.

There is so much more to know about Bill's amazing life and career and so I encourage you to look for his obituary online - the one from the funeral home and the one written by the College President Maud Mandel. In this essay, however, I simply wanted to highlight his relationship with me.

From my graduation in 1975 until his death in 2019 at the age of 86, Bill and I remained friends. He attended my first wedding in 1984 and was thrilled with the birth of my daughter. We communicated often over the years, keeping each other informed about life events, our kids (he has 3), our travels, our everyday lives and I visited him and Norma many times when in Williamstown. The last time I saw him was shortly before his death when we had a Geosciences Reunion and he was able to attend with his wife Norma by his side. Although he was in the grip of Alzheimer's by then, as he held court in the Science Quad, he regained a bit of clarity about the past and was able to recognize some of his former students. I had a wonderful conversation with him and he asked about my new husband, about my daughter, Clivey, and how I liked retirement and sailing. I was able to tell him how much he meant to me and just how important a person he had been in my life. It is not often that one gets this kind of closure and I am forever grateful for that.

Bill Fox
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