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Elusive Environmental Activist, The Fox, Is Dead
click to enlargeJim Phillips, of Aurora, Illinois, died Wednesday, October 3, 2001, in the Countryside Care Center, Aurora, of complications from diabetes. His pioneering environmental activism of the 60's and early 70s chastened industrial polluters with notorious, non-violent acts of civil disobedience. Often working in disquise or under cover of darkness, his ability to evade detection during his exploits earned him the nickname The Fox, a tribute to his stealth and cunning and to the land he worked to protect, his beloved Fox River Valley.
Jim Phillips was born on Chicago's north side, close to Riverview Park. When he was ten years old, his parents moved to the 26 acre truck farm his great grandfather had homesteaded in the Fox River valley. He became a biology teacher, encouraging his students to tackle problems of pollution. Nearby, a soap company was dumping untreated industrial effluent into Mill Creek, a tributary of the Fox River. A public official had complained to him that local agencies were uninterested or ineffective in responding to the problem, so Jim decided to try by plugging the drain. After several attempts, the drain was still polluting Mill Creek and when Jim saw a mallard hen and her brood floating dead amid the soap scum on the creek, he decided he was going to get more involved. And so the 'Fox' was born, early in 1969.
The Fox targeted not only the large companies but also the smaller ones that polluted water and air. Those that polluted the air often were visited with a ripe dead skunk as an olfactory reminder of what they were doing to their community. Occasionally he would reach out to point his finger at problems in neighboring counties as far afield as Chicago. But wherever he struck, he left his calling card, a message for the polluter signed the FOX, with the 'O' in the shape of a fox's head. The Fox bumper sticker
Perhaps Jim Phillip's most important accomplishment lay in the dramatic manner in which he chose to point out the problems he disclosed. It resulted in media coverage that reached a wide audience such as the articles written by Mike Royko and others. He created a ground swell of popular support and was referred to in books and periodicals as the hero of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s. He showed the rest of the concerned citizens that one person can make a difference.
In the Tricentennial year of 1973, Jim took part in the historical reenactment of the Jolliet-Marquette voyage of three hundred years before. His role as Pierre Porteret, one of Jolliet's voyageurs, was that of the expedition's environmentalist. click to enlarge During the voyage, they gave over 180 performances at communities along the way, teaching the people of the Midwest they had three hundred years of heritage to celebrate. And Jim's contribution was describing the richness of these lands they had traveled three hundred years before and how it had since changed.
Jim's last job was for the Kane County Environmental Protection Agency as a field worker which gave him a legal excuse to investigate county problems. He retired from his position at age 65 and devoted the rest of his life to writing his memoirs in a book appropriately called, 'Raising Kane' and speaking to school children everywhere. In his lifetime, he became a legend and the legacy he left is the challenge that we carry on the work he started.
I would like to propose naming an outdoor educational center or similar environmental educational site somewhere in the Fox River valley after Jim Phillips. A permanent display of the career of the Fox could inspire generations of persons who were not around in the 1960s and 70s and who might not know of the struggles to save and improve our environment. The Fox was rebelling against polluters when the usual legal channels led nowhere. He will go down in history as a hero much as our heroes from our revolutionary period who also rebelled against existing conditions. The story of the Fox can focus on how one person CAN make a difference!
Ralph C. Frese
Jim Phillips' book, RAISING KANE, is available at the Chicagoland Canoe Base.

Click here to read Gary Gordon's tribute to and first-hand account of his adventures with The Fox

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