Dr. Francis H. Fox, iconic Cornell veterinarian and teacher, has died at 92

Dr. Francis H. Fox, who may be best known to the Ithaca community as the man whose age is painted on an old railroad bridge over Route 366 on Varna each year, passed away Friday at the age of 92.

The bridge over Route 366 as updated last year. Photo courtesy Dr. Fox’s public Facebook page.

F H Fox is 92,” read the bridge this week after it was updated for Dr. Fox’s birthday, which was this Wednesday, March 11th. By tradition, the bridge has been repainted by each third-year class from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. For a stretch of several years until about twenty years ago, his age was painted on ventilation shafts that were removed when the vet school campus was substantially renovated in the 1990s.

Dr. Michael Kotlikoff, Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, said in a statement on Friday evening, “Francis was an iconic Cornell veterinarian and teacher who touched the lives of countless faculty, students, staff, and clients. His medical expertise, diagnostic skills and understanding of animals helped generations of local farmers maintain healthy, productive livestock. He passed those qualities on to Cornell veterinary students, to the benefit of farm animals well beyond our region.”

The playfulness that led to the annual update on the bridge came from Dr. Fox.  “Francis also shared with his students a sense of humor and a fondness for jokes, and the battle of wits that ensued provided a lively chapter in the history of our college,” Dr. Kotlikoff said.

A few years ago, student Clara Gallagher, a native of nearby Freeville, sought to solve the mystery, and produced a short documentary interviewing several students who speculated on who F.H. Fox might be, culminating with an interview with Dr. Fox. “I’ve enjoyed the whole thing. It’s not been a job, it’s been a pleasure, for which I’m very thankful,” Dr. Fox told Miss Gallagher. “Of course I play tricks on students, they play tricks on me. That keeps life interesting and alive.”

Dr. Fox, a member of Cornell’s veterinary class of 1945, passed away surrounded by family. “He will be greatly missed,” says Dr. Kotlikoff.

Will the graffiti on the bridge now read “F H  Fox is 92” forever? Will it reflect his passing? Be removed entirely? We’ll watch and see.

Editor’s Note: The bridge was repainted soon after Dr. Fox’s death to read “F H Fox is 4EVER.”

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