Jerry Fox, a dedicated public servant and selfless volunteer who helped save the life of President Gerald Ford during a 1975 assassination attempt in Sacramento, died Nov. 7 of cancer, his family said. He was 62.
Mr. Fox spent 25 years in parks and recreation, mostly as an administrator for the Elk Grove Community Services District. He was a familiar figure in the community, working with employees and volunteers to develop and maintain public recreation areas as the city’s population grew rapidly.
Meanwhile, he served on the board of the Arcade Creek Recreation and Park District and was a past president of the California Park and Recreation Society. He also volunteered on playground and landscape improvement projects at his daughters’ schools in the San Juan Unified district.
Mr. Fox was a compassionate man who looked out for others, even during difficult times. When his newborn daughter Lindsay was receiving treatment at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Sacramento for a congenital heart defect in 1985, he began organizing fundraisers for the Kaiser Kids Heart Foundation to help support young patients’ families, said his wife, Shirley.
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Their daughter was transferred to the children’s hospital at UC San Francisco, where Mr. Fox and his wife organized a potluck for other parents and children in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. Although his daughter died at 5 months old, he and his wife and two other daughters have continued every year to serve food to patients and hospital staff at UCSF at Thanksgiving.
An instinctive act of concern for others landed Mr. Fox on the front page of The Sacramento Bee and news media around the world after he helped thwart an attempt by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme to assassinate President Ford on Sept. 5, 1975. A 23-year-old state Assembly intern, he was standing near Fromme in the crowd as the president walked through Capitol Park when he saw her reaching under her dress to pull out a gun.
“Right as I saw her arms come up, a Secret Service agent passed in front of me,” he recalled in a 2009 story in The Bee. “We grabbed her and dropped her to the ground and held her there. She didn’t struggle at all. She just said a few things like, ‘It didn’t go off.’
“It happened so fast, I didn’t even think about it. I was just there,” he said. “I got home, and I wasn’t going to say anything to anybody. I thought, ‘Nobody is going to believe me.’ But the paper came out that evening, and there was my picture on the front page.”
Mr. Fox was born in 1952 and raised in North Highlands. His father was a civilian mechanic at McClellan Air Force Base, and his mother worked for a state employees’ union. He graduated from North Highlands High School, studied at UC Santa Barbara and earned a degree in international relations and economics from Sacramento State.
He wanted to be a lawyer, but left McGeorge School of Law to help care for his ailing father. He began working for the Sacramento County parks department as a lifeguard at the Gibson Ranch swimming hole, advanced into an office position and joined the Elk Grove Community Services District as parks superintendent.
He retired in 2004 as deputy parks administrator of the Elk Grove CSD, now known as the Cosumnes Community Services District. Until recently, he continued working as a consultant on local parks projects.
Mr. Fox, who served as grand marshal of Elk Grove’s annual Western Festival Parade in 2004, was honored with the dedication of the Jerry Fox Swim Center by the Cosumnes district. In addition, the California Park and Recreation Society District II named a scholarship fund after him.
“Jerry was the kind of man who would help anyone with anything,” his wife said. “More than anything, he was a family man. A lot of girls grow up thinking their daddy is a hero, but he really was.”
In addition to his wife of 38 years, Mr. Fox is survived by two daughters, Caitlin and Carli Darwazeh-Fox; a brother, Steve; and a sister, Kelly.
A celebration of his life is set for 11 a.m. Dec. 13 at the Barbara Morse Wackford Community Center, 9014 Bruceville Road, Elk Grove. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the UCSF Children’s Hospital at https://makeagift.ucsf.edu/children or to Stand Up to Cancer at www.standup2cancer.org.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.