The sign above, at an Aurora junkyard,
appeared on Earth Day, 2005.
"The Fox Lives" appears at the bottom
of the sign.
Farewell to 'The Fox'
(Editor's note: The following appeared in the Chicago Tribune
on October 16, 2001.)
Copyright (c) 2001, Chicago
In one of his first sorties, back in 1970, the mystery man dumped a
gallon of industrial sewage on the plush beige carpet at U.S.
Steel's Chicago office. He also left a tiny casket containing a
frog, a crayfish and a perch allegedly killed by the toxic stew
he had gathered from a steel-plant pipe that fed into Lake
He called himself "The Fox," and while some critics vilified him as
the nation's first ecosaboteur, his assaults on alleged
corporate polluters caused more embarrassment than damage. He
once heaved a
stink-bomb through the window of a Cargill
facility--and politely left a money order for $36.48 to pay for
the broken pane.
He became an almost mythical figure nationwide in the early
environmental movement. Unlike harder-edged activists, he never
caused irreparable damage or put lives at risk.
His favorite pastime was talking with schoolchildren, usually over
telephone squawk boxes, about the urgent need for them to
protect the environment. He rarely, though, shared his real
name; when pressed, he identified himself as "Rey," short for
renard, the French word for fox. He took the anthropomorphic
name, he said, after seeing a mallard hen and its ducklings
floating dead in a polluted tributary of the Fox River in
Chicago's far western suburbs.
There was a Robin Hood quality to The Fox, who in real life was a
school science teacher and, later, a Kane County environmental
enforcement officer. He plugged factory sewers with refuse,
capped smokestacks with concrete and doused corporate suites
with a stew of ground mackerel, cod-liver oil and essence of
skunk; he joked that road-kill was a great natural resource.
When U.S. Steel adopted the slogan "We're Involved," The Fox erected
a 70-foot-long banner that said, "We're Involved in Killing Lake
Michigan." At times he sent potty chairs to exasperated
executives who, in his view, needed training in environmental
issues. "My targets have to be greedy and ignorant," he
once confided to a reporter. "One alone isn't enough. Lots of
greedy people don't pollute."
The Fox was never caught, he said, in part because sympathetic
friends in law enforcement looked the other way--and because he
never picked an undeserving victim. His closest scrape came when
he hung a sign on Chicago's Picasso criticizing Mayor Richard J.
Daley's plan for a lakefront airport; three accomplices stalled
guards until he could change clothes and escape.
Earlier this month, a man named James F. Phillips, age 70, died of
complications from diabetes at an Aurora care center. The Fox is
While his acts that damaged property cannot be condoned, it is
unarguable that his tactics helped force many companies to clean
up their acts. "Society is my jury," he used to say. "The minute
people think I'm out of line, that I'm writing the rules to suit
me and not them, I'll be caught." The fact that he never was
says something about The Fox, and the people he inspired.