Archives 2001

James Phillips, 70, Environmentalist Who Was Called the Fox

Note from Real Life admin: It has been brought to my attention that there is an inaccuracy in the following article. Mr. Martin states that “His passion for the environment persists in a local group named for him, Friends of the Fox”, however, new information indicates this to be a false statement.
This information was provided by Pat Reese, who stated, “I am the founder of “The Friends of the Fox River,” and I can assure you our group was not named after The Fox, aka Jim Philips, and that there is no other group named “Friends of the Fox” in Illinois. However, there is a “Friends of the Fox” in Green Bay, Wisconsin, 300 miles away, also not associated with Jim.” Mr. Reese also provided official documentation supporting his information, and requested that appropriate corrections be made on this site.
-The Watchman
Originally posted:
October 22, 2001
James F. Phillips, an environment advocate who used flamboyant tactics like putting metal caps on top of belching smoke stacks, then leaving a note signed ”the Fox,” died on Oct. 3 in Aurora, Ill. He was 70.
The cause was complications of diabetes, his sister Dorothy Spring said.
Mr. Phillips led a dual existence as a middle school science teacher and an ecological saboteur, using techniques later refined by Greenpeace and other environmental groups. He never acknowledged that he was the Fox, although family members and friends confirmed that Mr. Phillips was.
”He carved a peculiar niche for himself,” said his friend Ralph Frese, a blacksmith and canoe maker who accompanied Mr. Phillips on a mission or two. ”He tried to disguise himself, but it was a thin disguise.”
The Fox plugged polluting sewer outlets and left skunks on the doorsteps of the executives who owned them. He collected 50 pounds of sewage that a company had spewed into Lake Michigan and dumped it in the company’s reception room.
”I got tired of watching the smoke and the filth and the little streams dying one by one,” he said in an interview with Time magazine in October 1970. ”Finally, I decided to do something — the courts weren’t doing anything to these polluters except granting continuance after continuance.”
Much of what the Fox did was against the law, and the police were hardly amused by the fox’s face, sometimes smiling, sometimes grim, that he customarily drew inside the ”o” of ”Fox” on the notes he left behind.
Robert Kollwelter, a local police sergeant, said in an interview with Newsweek in October 1970 that the authorities would charge the Fox with trespassing and criminal damage to property if they could catch him.
But they could not. ”It’s kind of hard to lift fingerprints from the inside of a sewer,” Sergeant Kollwelter explained.
At least one government official suggested that the Fox was performing a valuable service. The official, David Dominick, commissioner of the federal Water Quality Administration, said in a speech before the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1970, ”The Fox, by his deeds, challenges us all with the question: Do we, as individuals in a technological society, have the will to control and prevent the degradation of our environment.”
James Frederick Phillips was born in Aurora on Nov. 20, 1930. His grandparents were asparagus farmers, and he grew up on a farm. He earned a degree in biology from Northern Illinois University. He later taught science in middle school for 10 years.
In the late 1960’s, he was distressed to see dead ducks on the polluted Fox River, which meanders through Aurora to the Illinois River. He decided to take direct action: He stopped up a sewer pipe that was spewing sudsy wastes into the Fox River with plywood.
”Nobody ever stuck up for that poor, mistreated stream,” he told Newsweek. ”So I decided to do something in its name.”
He moved to bigger targets like United States Steel. In a 1970 column in The Chicago Daily News, Mike Royko told of his darting about Chicago putting up signs attacking the company for polluting.
For example, he posted a sign on a coffee shop window: ”Making steel is my business, murdering your environment is my sideline.”
Mr. Phillips later was a field inspector for the Kane County Environmental Department west of Chicago before retiring in 1986 to start the Fox River Conservation Foundation. ”He got a chance to do it legally,” Mr. Frese said.
The Fox’s escapades stopped after the enactment of state and federal laws to control pollution. His passion for the environment persists in a local group named for him, Friends of the Fox.
He is survived by two brothers, Herb, of Chicago, and Albert, of Verokua, Wis.; and two sisters, Dorothy Spring of Aurora and Margaret Webb of Fayetteville, Ark.
Photo: James F. Phillips

Captain's Corner

Captain's CornerWhen most people think of the CRIMEFIGHTER CORPS, they think of CAPTAIN JACKSON, CRIMEFIGHTER GIRL and the QUEEN of HEARTS. But in reality, there are many card carrying members.
One such member is Jordon Avon, also known as “The Eye”. He hails from Mountain View, California. Though we have never actually met, we have been in contact with one another for a number of months now.
And when people thing of the CRIMEFIGHTER CORPS, they seem to have the impression that our only mission is charity and promotion. Untrue. Jordan, for example, is in the private investigation business.
Being an investigator is an interesting business. Unlike what most people see on the many television programs, much of “The Eye’s” work consist of surveillance. In fact, he created a robot he calls “The Roving Eye.”
This ingenious device is a radio controlled “tank” with a video camera attached. The unit is capable of quietly approaching an area and transmitting both audio and video signals, and the “Eye” has used it a number of times in his line of work.
As I mentioned, and as is stated on our web site homepage, the CRIMEFIGHTER CORPS does more than contribute to the promotion of the city and charity events. Recently, a good citizen contacted me about a web site which seems to promote the use of drugs. After watching this negative propaganda and its accompanying video, I came to the conclusion that this was based out of the Los Angles, California area. Immediately I contacted “The Eye” and asked him to investigate. In less than two days he had valuable information and was in contact with the LAPD and filled them in on this corrupt site.
Jordan also has ties in Michigan, as is apparent in this open letter to the citizens of Jackson:
“Dear citizen of Jackson,
“From the remote CRIMEFIGHTER CORPS member known as “The Eye”, a California crime fighter carrying on the tradition of Captain Jackson… and I assure you that the core values of civic safety and good citizenship are also alive and well at this end of the country, as well as in the fine city of Jackson, Michigan.
“Speaking as one of particular Michiganian heritage, with my mother having been born in Flint before moving out west, I feel a close bond to you folks that having shared community-minded values richly provides. Have a wonderful day!
“Very Truly Yours,
“The Eye”
Our hats off to our fellow crime fighter Jordan. And as he usually ends his letters:
“If Life is not a daring adventure, it is nothing as all”—Helen Keller