Thomas F. Fox, a Sacramento music minister who was the eldest child of iconic film and TV star Dale Evans, died May 16 of complications from congestive heart failure, his family said. He was 84.
A longtime Carmichael resident, he died in Valencia, where he and his wife moved several months ago to be near their daughter Julie Pomilia.
Mr. Fox was active in music and the faith community in Sacramento for more than 30 years. He led several choirs as music pastor at Arcade Church for 20 years and helped organize community programs performed with other congregations.
He went on to serve as interim music minister for other churches and taught private lessons. In addition, he played the flute in the Carmichael Community Band.
Mr. Fox also contributed to an upcoming film that looks behind the lore of Evans, who died in 2001, and her fourth husband, Roy Rogers. Married in 1947, the "Queen of the West" and "King of the Cowboys" became a beloved American couple, starring together in movies, a popular TV show and public appearances.
The back story includes memories shared by Mr. Fox, who was named for his father and born in 1927 in Memphis, Tenn. His mother, who was born Frances Octavia Smith, eloped at 14, gave birth at 15 and was divorced at 17.
She struggled to support her son during the Great Depression while breaking into radio as singer Dale Evans. After developing rickets because he didn't have enough to eat, Mr. Fox was sent to live with his grandmother in Texas, his daughter said.
"He said that was the best thing that could have happened to him," Pomilia said. "He was very happy there, and (his grandmother) taught him Christian values."
Mr. Fox was 13 when he went with Evans to California for her first screen test in 1940. Her agent warned that she wouldn't get far in Hollywood as a single mother and insisted that she tell casting directors that Mr. Fox was her younger brother.
"She really felt guilty about it, but it never bothered my dad," Pomilia said. "It could have been something that really messed him up, but he was always a loving and accepting and forgiving man. He never held any grudge against my grandmother."
Mr. Fox graduated and earned a master's degree in music at University of Southern California. He had three daughters with his wife of 64 years, Barbara, and taught music in public schools in Los Angeles and San Jose before moving to Sacramento in 1978.
He had a close relationship with Evans and Rogers, who died in 1998. While living in Los Angeles, Mr. Fox and his wife helped his mother and stepfather answer their voluminous fan mail and spent weekends at the couple's ranch in Chatsworth. He influenced Evans' decision to become a Christian and sang with her on her religious TV show, Pomilia said.
He also shared their grief over family tragedies. Evans' and Rogers' biological daughter, Robin, had Down syndrome and died in 1952 just before her second birthday. One of the couple's adopted daughters, Debbie, died at 12 in a bus accident in 1964. Their adopted son John David, known as "Sandy," died at 19 in an accident while in the military in 1965.
"My dad's faith really brought him through a lot of tough times," Pomilia said. "He shared that with my grandmother, and it really helped her, too."