Inducted: November 18, 2014
Born in 1944 to James Fox and Margaret Miller, and growing up as a farm boy in Dover Township, little did Brian Fox realize the fantastic journey that lie ahead of him. Going to Dover Centre Public School, then to Wallaceburg District Secondary School, and being active in the local 4-H Club, gave Brian a glimpse of how to expand his goals and dreams of a bigger future.
He attended the University of Windsor, graduating with a degree in engineering. A career in automotive manufacturing began at Chrysler in Windsor and Detroit and lasted for a decade.
In 1963, he married Jeanne Burgess, daughter of James and Nova Burgess. They had three children: Judy Fox Hall Zhok (Randy Zhok), Jason Fox (Jenny Pelisek) and Lisa Fox Ball (Steve Ball). They now have four grandchildren.
Brian’s first love was farming, and so he moved back closer to home. While Brian was building his farming operation, he worked at local companies in Wallaceburg. Brian served as President of Waltec Engineering, Waltec Plastics and Emco Windsor & Doors. After returning to the farm full time, he continued to be involved in industry, serving on several corporate boards, including as Chairman of the Board of both TNR Doors and Baytech Plastics.
The farm acreage grew much larger through the 80’s and 90’s, however it was his decision to get involved with the re-introduction of sugar beets in Southwestern Ontario that put in motion a remarkably successful rebirth of sugar beets for processing.
Brian became both the founding Chairman of both the Ontario Ad-hoc Sugar Beet Committee and the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers’ Association. Four area growers planted 350 acres of sugar beets in 1996 for the Michigan Sugar Co. based in Croswell, Michigan.
MSC looked at the results of the 1996 crop year and saw that the Ontario growers were highly competent, and were blessed with fertile soil and favourable climatic conditions. Best of all, the sugar beets showed excellent results in sugar content. This confirmed that a joint venture between the USA and Canada would be a solid business model with the addition of greatly expanded acreages. This potential growth would require Ontario leadership.
What followed was an intense effort to deal with the legal and governmental issues, as well as all the bureaucratic red tape that is inherent with such a unique situation.
Brian, with all his life experiences away from agriculture as well as the depth of his farming skills, was the right person at the right time. In spite of his vast engineering background, strength under pressure and optimistic state of mind, Brian knew that everyone involved in the early days of the sugar beet re-emergence was important, and teamwork was the most important aspect to achieve success.
The challenges in the early years included – Recruiting more farmers and land base; Sourcing modern equipment; Acquiring property for piling yards; and Making the transition to a farm co-op business model. Later challenges included – Making the major investment necessary for transition to grower ownership of the processing plant at Croswell, Michigan; Dealing with new legal challenges with the conversion to GM sugar beets; Upgrading equipment infrastructure; and Defending seed production in Jackson County, Oregon where anti-GMO interests were complicating GE seed production.
With his pragmatic approach, Brian was the master at seeing all the many problematic concerns that could have derailed this industry; but he worked relentlessly and tirelessly with his peers to make a success where others might have given up.
Today over 90 farmers grow 10,000 acres of sugar beets in Ontario. Brian became a world traveler for OSGA. These included trips to Paris, France to see the new machinery which he believed was needed in Canada. There were visits to many European countries, Central and South America. Altogether he visited more than 50 countries, with many trips being for the betterment of the sugar industry in Ontario.
Brian was knowledgeable about biotech issues and served on the Bio-tech Task Force for the American Sugar Beet Growers’ Association. He believed that eventually new uses could be found for sugar beets in the bio-economy that would see increased acreage separate from sugar production.
Many today will remember Brian speaking of “the right and obligation to grow sugar beets” and the feeling of a job well done! His passions were his family, being innovative on the farm, and having a bigger picture for the future.
Brian had taken an Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP) Class 7 from 1997-99, and the group of 29 in the class, travelled to many different States in the USA, and to Europe, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.
At the time of Brian’s participation under leadership activities in the AALP, he served as Chair of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers’ Association, Past Director of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Past Director and member of the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association, and a member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Brian was the recipient of several previous awards, such as – The Ontario Skills Development award; and the Chatham-Kent Agriculturalist of the Year Award.
What should not be forgotten about Brian was the fact that with all of his achievements, none were more important than his family. As a husband, father and friend, that big voice with a soft heart remains in our hearts.
After suddenly passing away in 2013, the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers’ Association founded the Brian Fox Memorial Agricultural Scholarship to encourage young people in the pursuit of education, innovation, exploration and enthusiasm in agriculture.
Brian is described as a man passionate about agriculture, one who moved it forward. He was a thinker, always thinking ahead. He was also a caring man and very much a leader.
“A Farmer, Innovator, Explorer, and Family Man”