Fort Myers Florida Weekly


Ellie Fox has travelled all over the world.

Ellie Fox has travelled all over the world.

WILL ROGERS, THE FAMOUS COWBOY, actor and American humorist, was an Oklahoman, too. And like Ellie Fox, he was also part Cherokee Indian, but without the Choctaw lineage that she adds to her own history.

“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today,” he once said, offering a wisdom that defined his life and characterizes hers in Fort Myers, where she just won’t stay put.

Now 82, Mrs. Fox has visited every country and 320 of the 329 countries or territories in the world — those listed by the Travelers’ Century Club, open to all who can demonstrate they’ve been to at least 100.

“World Travel: The Passport To Peace Through Understanding” is the club’s motto, which means not many in the world have witnessed or understand as much as she does about human occupation of the planet.

Although Mrs. Fox stands not much above 5 feet and moves as lightly as a dancer — although the landscape of her existence seems limited by few or no national or political borders — her life is also tightly defined by her love of family and her moral view of the world, say those who know her.

Mrs. Fox carries a small notebook that includes maps of the world’s oceans and continents, with each nation or territory she’s visited circled in red.

Mrs. Fox carries a small notebook that includes maps of the world’s oceans and continents, with each nation or territory she’s visited circled in red.

She appears to take little pleasure in trumpeting her own horn, but pushed to quantify how she acts on her ethics, she will.

“I want to do some good in the world, to leave it a little better,” she said. “So I’ve sponsored pop concerts at the Southwest Florida Symphony, 10 plays at Florida Rep, I donate to 51 charities and organizations (every month), and I’ve sponsored five houses for Habitat for Humanity. I want to give back. And I put two young girls through college.”

Is that all? Probably not, but it’s enough to start with.


Her wanderlust, if that’s what it is, began early.

Her father, a combat veteran of World War II with a law degree who stayed in the Army when the war ended to work as an Army lawyer, brought the family from Oklahoma to Vienna where he was posted, in 1946. Ellie was in the third grade.



Vienna was nothing like Oklahoma. Or the Europe of the later 20th and 21st centuries, she recalls.

“When we lived in Vienna from 1946 to 1949 it was so sad a place. People everywhere on the streets were just looking for food. Bombed-out buildings were everywhere. But we lived in what had been a Nazi’s big home with a concrete attic and five servants — upstairs and downstairs maids, a chauffeur, a cook and a gardener.”

They moved to Los Angeles for about five years. Then her family returned to another European assignment, this one in Heidelberg, Germany. Already more worldly than many of her peers, she attended the American High School there her sophomore, junior and senior years, graduating number three in her class in 1955.

The family traveled extensively around Europe in those days, where she likely caught the gypsy bug for looking over the next horizon, she surmises.

And now it’s come to this.

According to the Traveler’s Century Club, the world’s regions and their nations or territories include the Pacific Ocean, with 40; North America, 6; Central America, 7; South America, 14; the Caribbean, 30; the Atlantic Ocean, 14; Europe and the Mediterranean, 68; Antarctica, 7; Africa, 55; the Middle East, 21; the Indian Ocean, 15; and Asia, with 52.

Even at home, Mrs. Fox is rarely without her notebook and maps, or planning new journeys.

Even at home, Mrs. Fox is rarely without her notebook and maps, or planning new journeys.

“There are probably about 800 of us who have been to as many as I have, but some have been to more,” she acknowledges. “Most of them are Americans.” And she knows of none who also live in Florida.

Mrs. Fox danced with a North Korean general in North Korea. Set foot briefly in Somalia, one of the most dangerous locations on the planet for westerners. She’s been kicked out of the dining area at a mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, even though she wore appropriate clothing and covered her head, after trying to sit down with a male friend for a salad where women were not allowed. She wasn’t protesting, she just couldn’t read their sign and didn’t know their rule. But she has an opinion about it, now: “I hate that women anywhere can be treated like that, by anybody,” she says.



And she beat Bill Gates in a bridge tournament in California some years ago, not part of her foreign itinerary perhaps, but notable in itself. She shares that memory with an impish grin and seeming embarrassment — for him, not for her.

Travel isn’t the only thing, either.

She calls bridge, with its mental challenges, “a lifesaver for me,” continuing to play as much as she travels. She won a tournament in Islamabad, Pakistan, played in 13 countries, and once spent $194 getting from a hotel in Moscow to a bridge club, entering the game, then getting back to the hotel — the most expensive bridge game she ever played, she admits.

Those who know her most closely say part of her love for the game is simply her sense that it helps keep her mind sharp. Health, her own physical and mental health, is a singular preoccupation. Bridge is part of it, her friends and family say, along with her willingness to be what she calls a “semi-vegetarian,” for example.

Ellie Fox with the love of her life, her husband Edward Fox, in 1990. COURTESY IMAGE

Ellie Fox with the love of her life, her husband Edward Fox, in 1990. COURTESY IMAGE

Why bridge?

“Bridge is a very dynamic game — not like chess or checkers where the rules always stay the same although techniques may change,” explains Ken Rose, a retired businessman who first met her more than 15 years ago when both were relatively new players in a bridge club. Their interests in films, theater and food were similar, they both loved bridge, and they became good friends.

“In Bridge the rules, the systems, the conventions all are changing and new ones always being approved,” Mr. Rose says. “It’s a learning process that’s continual. Ellie explores that, as any interested bridge player should.”

The back story

In a nearly deserted hotel breakfast room recently, a place that would soon be invaded for lunch by a convention of Detroit police who would never get to lay eyes on one of the world’s most journeyed travelers, Mrs. Fox greeted a reporter by offering a gentle welcome and an elbow rather than the customary hand. She delivered the elbow with a stylish flourish and a simple explanation: “We mustn’t shake hands. We have to be careful of coronavirus, so let’s touch elbows.”

Will Rogers might as well have been there: “Common sense ain’t common,” he’d long since observed. He didn’t need to add that Ellie Fox has it in spades.

“She’s a perfectionist, she’s goal oriented,” says her son, E.L. Fox — not that she expects perfection or disciplined order in others, necessarily, but just in herself. She draws a small blue-bound notebook from her purse and opens it to reveal tabbed notes on various subjects, all perfectly ordered and organized, along with a set of maps of the world showing nations she’s visited, each circled in red.

Her life in the notebook appears to be in perfect order, moving tirelessly toward the last of 329 countries. In fact, she’d be traveling in March instead of talking to Florida Weekly — to China for the fourth time to visit a region she’s never seen — if coronavirus hadn’t just reared its ugly viral head.

“Her penmanship is perfect, her organizational skills are incredible, she once learned to type 120 words per minute with no mistakes,” says her son, trying to characterize his mother and how she does things.

“Especially after her experience with my dad, she’s very health oriented,” he adds.

For 26 years, Mrs. Fox took close and attentive care of her late husband, Edward Fox, after he was diagnosed at age 55 with early onset Alzheimer’s, in 1990. Seven years into that terrible journey he became aggressive — in a final incident she suffered a concussion at the hands of “the gentlest man I ever met,” she says, part of the tragedy of the disease.

So he spent the last 19 years of his life in nursing homes, 14 years in diapers, and seven final years in a vegetative state.

She never left him, never gave up on him, never quit visiting him, her friends say, although “I had to go on with my life,” she acknowledges gently.

All that required change, both in her and E.L., who suddenly left his position as sales manager and become president of the business his hard-driving father had founded, Fox Electronics. The company became the largest privately owned producer of oscillators and crystals in the world — timing devices for electronic circuits, chips for microprocessors they sold to Hewlett- Packard, IBM, DELL Computers and Cisco Systems. Among others.

In the meantime, “she changed pretty dramatically pretty fast,” he remembers.

“Almost overnight she got out of her real estate business. It was all of a sudden. He lost his driver’s license. I would pick him up in the morning, take him home at night. We went to lunch together. She’d be there in the evenings taking care of him.

“She became sort of ‘the man of the house’ —I don’t want to be sexist; but she had to do things my dad did, like taking care of the finances. She wasn’t active in business at all, but she became much more active. She sat on the board (at Fox).”

Her energy and focus never left her, and neither did her youthful ambition to one day see the world.

“Nothing surprises me about my mother,” her son says now. “I will tell you this: My parents traveled a lot on vacations. They had a goal to see the world. I didn’t think much of it until about 10 years ago.

Then one day the pilot of Air Force One retires. He’s had five or six presidents, he flew through four decades. He’d been to 125 countries. I thought, ‘Wow, Mom has been to 150 countries.’ My parents are goal oriented. ‘We want to see the world,’ they used to say. That was the goal.”

From the red clay risen

It started in the red clay, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain and the corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye.

Mrs. Fox still considers herself an Oklahoman, at least in part: She holds a business degree from the University of Oklahoma and that’s where she met the love of her life, Edward Fox, a born and raised Wyoming boy who studied engineering at the university.

“He was my first-ever and only blind date,” Mrs. Fox recalls merrily. A member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, she went to a party with a young man named Larry who was so outraged when he emerged from a restroom and discovered her dancing with another young man, he grabbed her arm and shouted, hurting her.

“’You’re MY date and you stay with me!’” she remembers him thundering. It brought the room to an uncomfortable halt.

“When we left the party I told him that was the last I would ever see of him,” she said. And it was. Soon after, her twin sister at Alpha Chi told her the boy she was dating had a roommate, a real gentleman named Ed.

“‘Let me fix you up with Ed and we can double-date,’ she said, and I did. It was really love at first sight,” Mrs. Fox says.

Larry, meanwhile, was kicked out of the university.

After Ellie and Edward married, Ed did well, an Army veteran and engineer who became a rising star at General Electric. As a young mother, therefore, Mrs. Fox moved a lot, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as traveling a lot.

“Every year or two we were moving,” E.L. recalled. “We lived in eight different places by the time I was 11. It forced me to make new friends every time I moved.”

But when G.E. wanted Ed to move to Syracuse, New York, he’d had enough, and quit, taking another job, this one in Fort Myers where he’d been hired to rescue a struggling company called Crystek Crystals. In two years he’d succeeded. But when Crystek decided to move him to Texas, he quit again.

At the time, E.L. was at Cypress Lake High School, a senior.

“At the dinner table one night, dad showed me his letter of resignation,” he said. “We were living in a big house. We were doing well. I was like, ‘What are you, nuts?’”

But his mother completely supported his dad’s move, E.L. recalls, even if he started Fox Electronics in his garage.

“He hired a network of sales reps from home, and within a year he moved into an office suite with three people,” he said. Ellie was supporting this.

“I go away to college, I come back after my freshman year, and there’s six people. I come back after my sophomore year and there are 10 people, then I come back after my third year and it’s 20. I graduate with a degree in business and eventually start working there, and the rest is history. It grew from two or three employees to 108.”

The elder Mr. Fox was often gone, however.

“He traveled a lot. We had more than 10,000 customers world-wide, and he was always out-of-town for my birthday,” E.L. admitted. But it wasn’t too tragic. “Turns out there’s a trade show that week, every year. In Vegas. So once I got into the business, I was always in Vegas for my birthday.”

And always, Ellie supported her husband. “My mother believed in my dad so much. I don’t remember her ever questioning it (the garage start-up) at all. He wanted a Mercedes-Benz. Within four years he had one, and a 30-foot sailboat.”

Since Ellie was home a great deal in those days, her son says, “She went into real estate, started her own business, Fox Real Estate, and did quite well. She had motivation. And her organizational skills were so great, her attention to detail, her timeliness, her knowledge of the area so great — that knowing my mother she probably got a 100 percent on the real estate exam. She was a million-dollar producer just by herself at her company back in the ’80s when that was special.”

And then things changed when Ed couldn’t remember how much of a tip to leave at a restaurant, or when he asked his wife how her day had been — twice, 15 minutes apart, she recalls.

“So I called E. L. and asked him about it, and I remember — the silence was deafening. There was a long pause.” The Alzheimer’s had started.

She closed her real estate company, and the struggle began.

Through the 1990s, through the market downturn and hard high-tech times of 2001 and 2002, the family weathered all challenges, ultimately making Fox Electronics prosperous and more successful than ever.

The family sold the company in 2012 and Ed died in 2016, but the business had always provided both of them the money to achieve their goals — and in her case, to travel frequently, anywhere.

“I’m so blessed,” she says now, exhibiting exactly zero complaint about the suffering that Alzheimer’s created for her husband, her son and herself.

Meanwhile, she has many admirers. The Southwest Florida Symphony’s executive director, Amy Ginsburg, is one of them, having known Mrs. Fox for several years.

“I love her feedback on the music, I love hearing her stories, but the relationship she has with her son and his girlfriend, Lori is what I admire the most about her,” Ms. Ginsburg says.

“E.L. takes her to concerts and shows, and as part of her sponsorship of the symphony she gets tickets for the three of them. Nine times out of ten E.L. and Lori are with her. They have dinner together once a week. And she still carries the torch for her husband, Ed.”

What does that all mean?

“It means I want to be her when I grow up,” Ms. Ginsburg insists. “To have met and to still carry the torch for the love of her life, her husband Ed — to have a son who still wants her company — I think of her as a woman who has everything: a great life and the benefit of a very loving family.”

As for her past, Will Rogers doesn’t have to worry. It doesn’t take up too much of today, for the remarkable Mrs. Ellie Fox. Instead, it anchors and informs a woman of wide experience and formidable gravitas, for whom travel is only one thing: a prescription for seeing, a journey to the heart of living. ¦

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