A problem arose at some point last semester, and Sheri Worthy never saw it coming.
“At the time, it seemed to me the biggest disaster,” said Worthy, laughing at the memory now.
As became her custom during her tenure as head of the FACS department of financial planning, housing and consumer economics, Worthy took it to her dean, her mentor, Linda Kirk Fox.
“She is so patient, and when you come to her with these problems, it’s almost like she just gets energized by it,” Worthy said. “She’s just like ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out how we can solve it.’ She’s a problem solver, and she kind of relishes in that. I really admire that about her.”
Being a college dean involves more than just finding solutions to problems, of course, but for the last 10 years, all manner of challenges – including a pandemic – turned into opportunities as Fox guided the college to new heights.
On August 1, Fox’s decade-long run as dean ended in retirement. As she prepared to travel back to her native Oregon, Fox reflected on a UGA career that saw funded research in the college double, enrollment increase by more than 20 percent and the number of endowed professors grow from five to 15.
“The richest and most rewarding years of my career have been here at the University of Georgia,” she said. “Nothing has given me more fulfillment and more joy than working with the dedicated faculty and inspiring students of our college.”
“The College of Family and Consumer Sciences has been transformed by Dean Fox’s extraordinary vision and compassionate leadership,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “She helped uplift countless lives and communities during her time as dean, and I am grateful for her tireless service to so many on our campus, throughout Georgia, and beyond. Linda’s impact on UGA will be felt for a very long time, and she will be sorely missed.”
Shaped by service
One of Fox’s most vivid memories involves hearing stories of her maternal grandmother, a nurse in rural Kansas during the Great Depression.
“Every day, she would make sandwiches and wrap them in paper and put them on the back porch for anybody to come by who was hungry,” she said. “Nobody had to identify or ask – the sandwiches were just there. That always moves me. Service to others was always of value.”
The notion of serving others through your work was a driving force in Fox’s career, which began in 1981 as part of the University of Idaho Extension network, and explains her lifelong affinity for land-grant universities.
“They have the special obligation to serve the public, to be accessible for all people and really the opportunity to empower many more people,” Fox said.
Early in her career, Fox was shaped by a handful of mentors who helped mold her philosophy as a leader.
“They were savvy in helping me know where to not waste my time,” she said. “Put your energy toward productive, positive outcomes, and don’t get caught up in what we might call the water cooler talk. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to hang out with positive people.”
When she was contacted by the UGA search committee about the FACS position, Fox was serving as dean and director of Washington State University Extension. Leaving a conference in Washington, D.C., she changed her airplane ticket and made a side trip to visit the Athens campus.
“I rented a car, walked around campus,” she said. “The people were friendly. I remember going home to my husband and saying, ‘I want this job.’ ”
In summer 2011, she was named the seventh dean of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, noting she was “proud to be a part of a lineage of strong, thoughtful, dedicated women leaders.”
Laying the foundation
A small shovel occupied a corner of Fox’s office in Dawson Hall, a remnant of a 2012 groundbreaking event held at the college’s Child Development Lab at the McPhaul Center.
The shovel is an appropriate symbol of Fox’s tenure, having overseen millions of dollars of facility upgrades that includes the complete renovation of a 1930s-era home management house into the world-class Charles Schwab Financial Planning Center as well as revitalized labs and new software and technology purchases throughout the college.
Lynn Bailey, head of the department of nutritional sciences, was hired one month after Fox. The two teamed up to launch more than a dozen national searches for faculty during their decade together, efforts that helped double the size of the department from 14 to 28 faculty members.
With new faculty comes the need for new lab space, and that’s an area where Fox excelled, Bailey said, recalling a time early in her tenure when the two visited Dawson Hall together to take inventory of existing facilities.
“She actually picked me up at my house one Saturday morning and in jeans and flip-flops we went up to Dawson Hall and walked around, looking at space that had not been utilized,” Bailey said. “She really could in another life be an architect because she then drew up some plans and ideas looking at how that space could be converted and revitalized into usable research space.”
Since that day, millions of dollars have been spent on major renovations in both Dawson and Barrow halls, creating new, state of the art labs out of a series of non-functional spaces. Fox used every avenue for funding, leveraging private investments, industry partnerships and university funding to overhaul the FACS physical space.
“She really has a vision for establishing the college as a research hub in this part of the United States,” Bailey said, “and it’s not just lip service. She’s been very effective at the university level of making her vision a reality.”
She was just a trendsetter and a visionary, and I think the students and alumni speak so highly of what she’s done. Her legacy is melding the science of the field with the softer side of education – just being a great listener and always learning – and that just made all the difference in the world.
On a rooftop in New York City, Victoria Dorsey knew she was watching something special. Fox was mingling with a group of FACS alumni working in the city, and Dorsey, then the FACS alumni director who helped organize the trip, was taking notes.
“You could tell she was listening and learning and that she cared about them,” said Dorsey, a FACS grad and now the senior director of development for Perimeter College. “She just exudes caring. I learned so much about leadership just from watching her.”
While every metric used to measure a dean – enrollment, grant funding, private support, etc. – has trended upward during Fox’s tenure, so has the college’s reputation as simply a good place to be and a place alumni are proud to call home.
One of the chief reasons for that, Worthy said, is Fox’s passion.
“One of the things that continues to impress me about Dean Fox is she just has this enthusiasm about everything,” Worthy said. “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing: a Monday morning meeting, headed off to a football game, going to Atlanta for a meeting. She’s just genuinely excited to be doing it and that’s the only thing she wants to be doing at that time. I got the feeling she liked being the dean and I think she enjoyed every minute of it.”
In 2017, the FACS Alumni Association board and student leaders read through the book “StrengthsFinders 2.0” prior to a leadership retreat.
Nobody in the room was surprised to learn one of Fox’s strength themes was “futuristic,” defined in the book as “the kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon” and “a dreamer who sees visions of what could be.”
“She was always looking at how we can go forward as a college, and she was always our biggest cheerleader,” Worthy said.
That future, Fox said, is a bright one.
When she climbs into that Subaru, the one with the UGA 012 license plate – a nod to the first 12 women who enrolled at UGA in the division of home economics in 1918 – she’ll take some pride in knowing she’s played a role in securing the future for the next generation of FACS students and alumni.
“It’s bittersweet,” Fox said of retirement, “because I like to participate in planning for the future and at some point it will be someone else’s opportunity. But there are so many good people and so many opportunities for success here – there’s really no holding back.”
Milestones during Dean Fox’s tenure 2011-2021
Funded research doubled
Enrollment increased by more than 20 percent
Endowed professors grew from 5 to 15
Millions spent on facility renovations, technology and software
College celebrates centennial, 100 Centennial Honorees recognized at gala event in 2018
Charles Schwab Financial Planning Center dedicated in 2019
The College of Family and Consumer Sciences has been transformed by Dean Fox’s extraordinary vision and compassionate leadership. She helped uplift countless lives and communities during her time as dean, and I am grateful for her tireless service to so many on our campus, throughout Georgia, and beyond. Linda’s impact on UGA will be felt for a very long time, and she will be sorely missed.
Prior to her retirement, Dean Fox and her husband Wayne established the Dean Linda Kirk Fox Scholarship for Academic Excellence.
“I believe in investing for the future,” she said. “One way we wanted to demonstrate our long-term commitment to FACS was by establishing this scholarship to recognize students with high academic achievement. I’ve seen firsthand the impact private giving has on our FACS students, and this is one way we can be part of their success.”
To give to the scholarship, visit https://t.uga.edu/788