Bob Fox ’68

September 16, 2008Duke Law News

Sept. 16, 2008 — Bob Fox discovered table tennis during his first year at Duke Law School. At first the sport served as a diversion, if not an outright distraction, from the 12-hour study days that marked his initial time in Durham. Before long it became a passion, one that took him to Beijing for this year’s Olympic Games.

Fox is the team leader for the U.S. National and Olympic table-tennis teams. The United States Olympic Committee requires that each team have an official leader who is administratively responsible for the squad at all times. Fox’s tasks can be as routine as ensuring that players arrive for their designated playing times or as complicated as tracking down the entire team at a moment’s notice, as he did in Atlanta in 1996 following the Olympic Park Bombing.

In Beijing, Fox enjoyed a front-row seat to the women’s team’s upset of The Netherlands and its fifth-place finish overall. The team lost in the second stage of the bronze medal playoff, a result Fox describes as “incredible” considering that the unit was ranked toward the bottom of all the international competitors. “We were pretty pleased to finish fifth,” Fox says. “Fifth is up there with the big guns, the really elite teams, and we played with them.”

Since 1992, Fox’s work as a team leader has taken him to ten different countries and has enabled him to establish many international friendships. He has participated in four Olympics overall, having missed the 2004 games in Athens due to a heart emergency.

Fox notes that his Olympic involvement has allowed him the opportunity to meet celebrated authors, cultural icons, and world leaders in addition to international athletes. He was particularly thrilled to meet Mike Krzyzewski at this year’s opening ceremonies. “I fell to my knees and kissed his ring,” Fox jokes. “I’ve read his books, and my coaches have read his books. I just admire him beyond measure, and of course I love Duke basketball.”

Fox’s current international role is a long way from the basement of the graduate center where he got his table tennis start. Fox took solace in table tennis as he contemplated withdrawing from law school to join the Peace Corps, which he felt better matched his values. He stayed in school and kept playing table tennis, advancing to the finals of an intramural tournament where he was soundly defeated by a North Carolina state champion.

Years later, while he was a practicing attorney specializing in tax-exempt organizations, Fox paid a visit to a Minnesota table tennis tournament that rekindled his passion for the sport. “I went over and I watched, and I was just totally hooked,” Fox says. “The next week I went to the local club and signed up and started taking lessons.”

He has remained a serious player, even reaching the semi-finals of a national championship for players older than 50. He came to his current team leader role after volunteering for years at Olympic Festivals and U.S. Open tournaments in an effort to give back to the sport he loves.

Following his passions is nothing new for Fox. He left behind his legal career after participating in a training activity with one of his clients that had him answer questions about how he was spending his time and what he most liked doing. The results of the inventory encouraged him to open a conversation with a partner at his law firm who encouraged him to “hang around, but look around.”

Fox’s search led him, in 1972, to become a charter faculty member at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn., where he quickly learned that he didn’t need his “wingtip shoes, three-piece suit, and buttoned-down collar shirt.” There he has taught a broad range of courses – ranging from “Administrative Law” to “Perspectives: Educational Philosophy and Planning” – and helped develop an award-winning, student-centered curriculum that strives to produce self-directed, lifelong learners.

“For the past 35 years I’ve been able to work in an institution that is for the most part completely consistent with virtually all of my values and beliefs,” Fox says. “I have been so blessed to be able to be in that situation that I just can’t describe it. It’s just been incredible.”

“I decided that I wanted to have fun doing the things I was doing,” he adds. “I found it a little difficult to have fun in the context of the law firm. I met some really fascinating people that I liked and enjoyed, and still enjoy, but nothing like what I’ve found at Metro or with table tennis.”
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