Hazel Ann Fox, 103, patron of the arts

January 07, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Hazel Ann Fox, a patron of the arts and a philanthropist whose generosity culminated in substantial bequests to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland Institute, College of Art, died of respiratory failure Christmas Day at her Ruxton residence. She was 103.

Her other philanthropic interests over the years included Washington College in Chestertown, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Miss Fox, known for an unpretentious demeanor and a zest for life, was active until a year ago, attending concerts and lectures and the theater. She drove her car and insisted on doing her own shopping at Graul's Market in Ruxton until she was in her late 90s.

"She was a wonderful, sweet lady who had a real interest in people," said Fred Lazarus IV, Maryland Institute president.

Miss Fox and her nephew, Alonzo G. Decker Jr. of Cecilton, former chairman of Black and Decker Inc. and an institute trustee, were benefactors of the 1979 renovation of the old Cannon Shoe Co. headquarters on Mount Royal Avenue into studios, classrooms and offices for the college.

At its 1980 dedication, the building was renamed the Fox Building in honor of Charles Fox, her father, an 1885 graduate of the institute's architectural program. She also endowed a scholarship at the college in her name.

Miss Fox was elected an honorary trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1982, a position she held until her death.

"She was a great fan of our museum, and she attended events here with regularity," said Director Arnold L. Lehman. "Our Fox Court, the columned main court where we hold our major events, was named for her as a reflection and a thank you for her generosity and for making a major endowment pledge. We feel fortunate that her name will be forever associated with the museum."

Born during Benjamin Harrison's presidency, Miss Fox was raised on her father's 600-acre farm, which he later developed into what is now Orangeville. The Southeast Baltimore community near Pulaski Highway and Sinclair Lane became home to Baltimore and Ohio and Pennsylvania railroaders who worked in the nearby Bayview yards.

"She didn't travel a great deal and enjoyed telling great tales about the city," Mr. Lazarus said. "Her grandfather had been a 19th-century sea captain of a sailing ship and merchant, so she always had a deep interest in the merchant tradition of the city."

Educated in parochial schools from which she graduated in 1910, Miss Fox studied singing and sang alto for more than 30 years in the choir of Franklin Street Presbyterian Church. Her interest in music brought her friendships with opera greats Rosa Ponselle and Enrico Caruso.

In the 1940s, she decided to learn the rumba and signed up for lessons at Arthur Murray Studios, where she subsequently won many trophies in competitive dancing. At Arthur Murray she met William Berryman, an instructor who in 1939 founded the Greenspring Inn on Falls Road, which offered traditional ballroom dancing and maintained the Big Band tradition until closing several years ago.

"She loved to dance, and on her 100th birthday did the rumba, her favorite dance, at a birthday celebration at the L'Hirondelle Club in Ruxton," said Mr. Berryman, who was a friend and companion for 50 years. "She was a dynamite person."

Miss Fox lived in a 1920s-era stucco house for the last 56 years in Ruxton, where one room was filled with her dance trophies. She preferred entertaining guests on her glass-enclosed porch.

"She was one of the most charming, vibrant people that I have ever known," Mr. Lehman said. "She was so ageless that, upon first meeting her, it was impossible to guess her age."

Doug Forest, Maryland Institute vice president of development, said, "She always had a cheerful and optimistic outlook and was known by all for her favorite expression of 'swell elegant.' "

Services were held Dec. 27.

Besides her nephew, she is survived by two nieces, Jane Decker Asmis and Dorothy Patterson, both of Towson; and many great-nieces and great-nephews.

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