By: Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History, Curator for the Navy Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Thomas Robert Fox, U.S. Navy (Retired) on May 23, 2020 at age 85. Tom Fox entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1953 and served as a Naval Aviator, a Surface Warfare Officer and a Submarine Officer (he qualified in all three) including 17 strategic deterrent missile patrols until his retirement in January 1991 as, Deputy Director for International Negotiations in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff negotiating the START Treaty with the Soviet Union. His commands were George C. Marshall (SSBN 654, interim C.O.). Ethan Allen (SSBN 608 Blue), Kamehameha (SSBN 642 Gold), Proteus (AS 19) Submarine Squadron SEVENTEEN, (the first C.O. of the first Trident Squadron)/Submarine Group NINE, and Naval Training Center, Orlando.
Tom Fox took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy on June 29, 1953 with the Class of 1957, described by those who knew him as “his smiling face and matching humor served to brighten many of this life’s darker moments.” He graduated on June 1, 1957 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Naval Science and was commissioned an ensign. Ensign Fox then proceeded to NAS Pensacola for the Naval Aviation Basic Training Course, followed in June 1958 by advanced flight training at ATU 212 at NAAS Kingsville, Texas, where qualified as a Naval Aviator and was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade) and December 7, 1958. He then reported to Fighter Squadron TWO ONE (VF-21), flying the F11F-2 Tiger. His first operation assignment was to All-Weather Fighter Squadron FOUR (VC-4), which provided detachments of night fighters to the ASW carriers for all-weather protection, in February 1959. In August 1959 he transitioned to Utility Squadron TWO, whose mission was to tow targets for ship’s gunnery practice and for Combat Information Center Training.
In February 1961, Lt. j.g. Fox reported to Fighter Squadron ONE SEVEN FOUR (VF-174), a fleet replacement squadron, for training in the F8U Crusader jet fighter, where he was promoted to lieutenant in June 1961. For whatever reason, Lt. Fox’s career took a major new direction at this point and in February 1962 he was assigned as First Lieutenant on the stores ship Alstede (AF 48) operating out of Norfolk and deploying to the Mediterranean to resupply ships of the U.S. SIXTH Fleet. During this period he qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer and was selected for submarine duty and the Navy Nuclear Power Program.
In March 1963, Lt. Fox reported to the Naval Nuclear Power School, Bainbridge MD followed by additional training at Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit Windsor, Conn. and then the Naval Submarine School, Groton, Conn. In October 1964 he reported to the new fleet ballistic missile submarine Thomas Jefferson (Gold) (SSBN 618) as Main Propulsion Assistant (MPA) conducting strategic deterrent patrols out of Holy Loch, Scotland. On February 1, 1966 he was promoted to lieutenant commander.
In August 1966, Lt. Cmdr. Fox reported for training at Naval Guided Missile School, Dam Neck, Va, followed by assignment in December 1966 as Navigator for the new George Bancroft Gold (SSBN 643) for her second deterrent patrol, also operating out of Holy Loch, Scotland. Following another stint at Naval Guided Missile School in June 1968, he reported as Executive Officer to George C. Marshall Blue (SSBN 654) for deterrent patrols from Holy Loch and served as interim Commanding Officer when the submarine went into overhaul in 1971.
Promoted to commander on July 1, 1970 he commenced a command training pipeline in January 1971 assigned to Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet and then to Director, Division of Naval Reactors, Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, D.C. before assuming command of Ethan Allen Blue (SSBN 608) in June 1971 followed by command of Kamehameha Gold (SSBN 642) in July 1972 after Kamehameha transferred from the Pacific to the Atlantic, operating from New London and Rota, Spain. In February 1975, Cmdr. Fox reported to the staff of Submarine Group FIVE as Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel, Readiness and Training.
Promoted to captain on February 1, 1978, Capt. Fox assumed command of submarine tender Proteus (AS 19) in May 1978 during her overhaul at Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Calif. and her return to duty at Guam. In August 1980, Capt. Fox became the first commander of Submarine Squadron SEVENTEEN/Commander Submarine Group NINE, the first Trident ballistic missile submarine squadron through the arrival of the first Trident submarine, USS Ohio (SSBN 726) in 1982. In August 1982, Capt. Fox reported to Washington, D.C. as the Deputy Director, Strategic Submarine Division (OP 21B) in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
In March 1984 he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and in May 1984 assumed command of Naval Training Center, Orlando. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on August 1, 1985. In June 1986, Rear Adm. Fox reported to the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, first as the Deputy Director, International Negotiations and then in June 1987 as the Director, International Negotiations. On September 1, 1987 he was promoted to rear admiral (two star) and in August 1989 reported to Supreme Allied Command Atlantic in Norfolk as Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Policy. In February 1990, his tour was cut short and he returned to Washington to resume duties on the Joint Staff as Director of International Negotiations during a critical phase of negotiations on the bi-lateral U.S.-Soviet Union Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START) initiated by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and signed in 1991 (and renewed in 2010) and was considered the largest and most complex arms treaty in history. This was the first treaty that resulted in a reduction of offensive strategic weapons by both the U.S. and Soviet Union. Read Adm. Fox also worked on several other conventional, biological and chemical weapons treaties before his retirement on January 1, 1991.
Read Adm. Fox’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit (3), Meritorious Service Medal (2), Navy Commendation Medal, Navy E ribbon, National Defense Service Medal (2), Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (2).
Following his retirement Rear Adm. Fox served as Associate Laboratory Director, National Security Technology, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory until 1999. The family requests that any memorial contribution go to the Alzheimer Foundation of America.
Tom Fox certainly took a road less travelled in his way to flag rank, starting as an aviator, transitioning to surface warfare, and finishing as one the Navy’s foremost experts on strategic missile submarines, and apparently the “indispensable man” on the Joint Staff during the highly complex (and seemingly interminable) negotiations for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which eventually resulted in an 80 percent reduction in the number of nuclear weapons pointed at each other by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Described by those who knew him as “a highly enthusiastic, talented and dedicated naval officer who took great pride in the part he played defending our nation, training and mentoring future Navy leaders and influencing strategic submarine warfare doctrine. He was a role model in leadership others sought to emulate” and it was noted that he retained the infectious sense of humor he displayed at the Naval Academy. Tom Fox served our nation with great distinction in positions of grave responsibility (one false step on a nuclear submarine loaded with the immense power of nuclear ballistic missiles would be catastrophic). It can be argued that because of his role in the START negotiations, not only is the U.S. safer, but so is the entire world.
Rest in Peace Admiral Fox.