Raymond T. Fox ’47, M.S. ’52, Ph.D. ’56, professor emeritus of floriculture and ornamental horticulture and renowned for his elaborate campus floral displays and floriculture expertise, died March 31 in Ithaca, New York. He was 96.
Fox was born Aug. 31, 1922, in Corning, New York, the son of Joseph and Marie Hauer Fuchs. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Fox began his Cornell career as an instructor in the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture the same year. He subsequently earned his master’s and doctorate, also at Cornell, and was promoted to full professor in 1979, serving until his retirement in 1987.
His late wife Vera ’48, who died in 2009, was also an accomplished horticulturist.
Fox was legendary for tirelessly organizing and leading brigades of volunteers to set up floral displays at campus events, even after his retirement.
In his address at the university’s 129th Commencement in 1997, then-university president Hunter R. Rawlings III paid him tribute: “[This] Commencement represents the 50th year that Professor Fox, with help from an enthusiastic band of volunteers, has coordinated the floral arrangements for Commencement Weekend. For 50 years, his has been truly a labor of love.”
Equally spectacular were Fox’s holiday decorations at Sage Chapel, which often included elaborate, tree-like poinsettia arrangements.
“He was a superb floral designer – both in composition of a single piece as well as grand displays,” said Professor Emeritus Tom Weiler, former chair of the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture. Fox was a key figure at the now-defunct New York Flower Show and the iconic spring flower display at Macy’s department store in New York City.
To appreciate Fox’s contributions requires an understanding of how the floriculture industry has changed since its heyday, Weiler said.
“In the 1950s and ’60s, you never saw ‘in lieu of flowers’ on funeral announcements,” he said. “Elaborate floral arrangements were essential at most every social occasion from weddings and funerals to dances and other public functions.
“The emphasis was on locally produced flowers,” Weiler said. “Cut flowers were a much larger segment of New York’s greenhouse production, and Ray was the center of Cornell’s support of retail florists.”
Fox’s academic pursuits focused on teaching and outreach. He taught popular courses in floral design and retail flower store management. “He bled Cornell red and trained generations of florists,” said Bill Miller, professor of horticulture and director of Cornell’s Flower Bulb Research Program.
Fox often spoke to florist organizations, garden clubs and county Cornell Cooperative Extension audiences. He authored or co-authored many popular consumer publications, including “The Selection, Care, and Use of Plants in the Home” and “Techniques for Propagation of Plants for Interior Decoration.”
He also devoted time to community service, developing horticulture therapy programs at local senior centers, leading international garden tours and holding leadership positions in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Garden Club.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete and will be announced.
Craig Cramer is a communications specialist in the School of Integrative Plant Science, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.