Arthur J. Fox Jr., who parlayed early construction field experiences for a state highway department and for the U.S. Army on World War II battlefields to build industry trade journal Engineering News-Record into the so-called “Bible” of the now $8.5-trillion global construction sector, as editor-in-chief for nearly 25 years, died on May 11 in Rockville, Md. He was 92.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to his daughter Jane A. Fox of Wilmington, N.C.
Fox set high standards of exacting news coverage on subjects often highly technical and fast-breaking, and, on ENR's editorial page, often took stances on issues that were not always popular.
He defended the industry as in one editorial was critical of an exposé book about giant contractor Bechtel, proffering that “having friends in high places is no sin” (ENR 4/21/88 p. 82), but he also chastised it, as in a 1970 editorial that tied a poor civil-rights record and government “intervention” to contractors’ inability to extricate themselves “from the closed-shop hiring-hall box they’re in” (ENR 2/12/70 p. 80).
A 40-year ENR veteran, Fox also created or propelled numerous innovations that now define the non-residential construction sector—particularly the journal’s 50-year-old revenue-based rankings of leading firms that are widely referenced to measure the industry’s health and provide disciplined analysis and needed transparency in a fractious sector of mostly privately-held businesses.
“Through the rankings, he gave a collection of professional and often small or family-owned businesses a sense of where they stood and an appreciation for what th eindustry as a whole contributed,” says Robert Prieto, former senior vice president of Fluor Corp. and chairman of Parsons Brinckerhoff. “This helped to create an ever-strengthening industry identity.” Fox also created ENR’s industry-leading annual achievement recognition program, the Award of Excellence, now in its 51st year.
Fox traveled widely to report first-hand at often remote or dangerous jobsites of massive, nation-altering projects—from record-setting dams in the Soviet Union to the U.S. military buildup in South Vietnam.
He also was a strong proponent of industry unity-building and ethics. He helped drive adoption of more stringent anti-corruption rules for engineering professionals and project owners on international work through the American Society of Civil Engineers, begun in 2004.
Amending ASCE's existing ethics code to add stronger anti-corruption language "was like adding another amendment to the Constitution," says Michael Sanio, ASCE's director of sustainability and international alliance. "Art's absolute commitment to this was critical." Adds Wendy Hallgren, Fluor Corp. vice president for compliance: "He believed strongly that corruption drained economies, particularly developing economies, of the resources and projects that would allow them to advance."
Fox epitomized ENR’s key role as the media authority on the non-residential construction sector, tapped by The New York Times in a 1978 story to offer quick verification and analysis of the $3.4-billion price of a planned university campus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
"It was a great honor for ENR to be called the bible of the construction industry but [Fox] never let us forget the journalistic responsibility that carried,” says Howard Stussman, his successor as editor-in-chief. “People allowed themselves to be interviewed because they believed the truth about a project or situation had to be told and that ENR was the trusted place to do that."
But Fox also took heat, as in 1966 from former New York City public works czar Robert Moses—and from executives at ENR’s then-parent McGraw-Hill—for a headline wording snafu related to Moses' political feud with then-Mayor John Lindsay over a stalled highway project. Despite a mea culpa on ENR’s letters page, Fox writes in an internal office memo of being “lectured” by the formidable Moses when summoned to his office, and expecting to be “thrown out” out of the meeting. But, insisted Fox in his memo: “I can’t promise that we’ll never again run afoul of this fellow.”
"In any news organization, the journalists need to know they can do their jobs without wondering whether the eyes of ‘corporate' are upon them," says William Reinhardt, a former senior editor who now is editor-in-chief of industry newsletter Public Works Financing.
Referring to ENR’s particular reputation for reporting of construction disasters, Reinhardt added that “ENR under Art Fox aggressively reported the causes of major engineering failures where the reputations of important people and companies were at stake. Art never flinched. When the reporting was done professionally, he stood behind his people. The industry benefitted from having a trusted source of information on the cause of failures. ENR's editorial staff benefitted from having Art Fox as their leader.”
Fox stepped down as ENR Editor in Chief in 1988, and is the recipient of numerous industry awards. He also served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and helped found several organizations that link industry businesses and academic institutions.
Fox received his BS in civil engineering from Manhattan College in New York City, in 1947. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1982, and remained an active alumnus. “He cared about making civil-engineering education relevant,” says Jane Fox, a university professor.
Fox notes her father’s meticulous planning until the end of his life, as he carefully weighed options after his cancer diagnosis in January. “We thought it was part of being an engineer,” she says.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to
Arthur J. Fox Jr. Scholarship at Manhattan College
Manhattan College, Office of Planned Giving
4513 Manhattan College Parkway
Riverdale, NY 10471
Online contributions can be made at: connect.manhattan.edu/giving
In addition to his daughter and son-in-law Jack Riordan, Fox is survived by three grandchildren Michelle Tamburello, John K. Fox, and Christine Fox. and two great-grandchildren. His son, John, predeceased him.
Messages of condolence can be sent to Jane Fox and Jack Riordan, 126 Bradley Pines Drive, Wilmington, NC 28403