Robert W. Fox
Born: July 1, 1934 (Verdun, Quebec)
Died: January 25, 2014 (West Lafayette, Indiana)
Bob Fox was only 19 when his stellar goaltending led Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to the 1954 American college hockey championship.
Born on Dominion Day in Verdun, a bilingual working-class suburb of Montréal, Fox was a star pupil and athlete at his high school. His physics teacher, who was also his hockey coach, recommended he attend the polytechnic at Troy, N.Y. He arrived as a freshman at age 16. He soon after gained an athletic scholarship.
In his sophomore year, the Engineers earned their first berth in the NCAA tournament, which pitted two teams from the east against two teams from the west. RPI lost a semifinal match and a shot at the national title. They finished third in the nation.
The team opened the 1953-54 season with six consecutive victories on the way to building an 18-5 record. Fox had six shutouts, blanking Michigan State, Hamilton, Springfield, Northeastern, Middlebury and Carleton. Fox had a 3.14 goals-against average with a .892 save percentage in 22 games in his junior year.
RPI returned to the NCAA tournament at the Broadmoor Ice Palace at Colorado Springs, Colo., where they faced a semifinal against prohibitive favourites Michigan, defending champions who happened to be on an 11-game undefeated streak.
The mismatch seemed all the more obvious after Boston College, ranked No. 1 in the east ahead of RPI, lost to Minnesota, No. 2 in the west, by 14-1.
The Engineers persevered in a seesaw battle, settled only after an empty-net goal made the score 6-4 with 29 seconds left.
In the championship game, RPI jumped to a 3-0 lead, but the score was tied 4-4 after regulation. An overtime goal on a rebound by Gord Peterkin gave the NCAA championship to the Engineers. A relieved Fox and coach Ned Harkness, of Ottawa, embraced at centre ice. Fox was a unanimous pick to the tournament’s all-star team.
Fox maintained a grade-point average of 3.40 in his senior year, during which he was Grand Marshal of the student body, the highest student office. The hockey team was rebuilding and finished with a losing record, though Fox was named to the Second All-Star Team. (He had been a First All-Star the previous season). In his four seasons at the school, the Engineers had a 57-24-3 record.
Fox graduated with a science degree in 1955, before earning a masters degree from the University of Colorado two years later and a doctorate from Stanford University in 1961. He joined the faculty of Purdue University the following year as an assistant professor before becoming a professor in 1966. He co-authored an undergraduate textbook — “Introduction to Fluid Mechanics” — published in five languages and in print for more than four decades.
After retiring in 1999, he and his wife, the former Beryl Williams, traveled to all seven continents. He leaves his wife of 51, a son, a daughter, four grandchildren, and a sister.