F. Eugene ‘Fitz’ Dixon Jr.
|F. Eugene 'Fitz' Dixon in 1977, when he became chair of Temple University's Board of Trustees. (Photo courtesy the Templana Collection, Temple University Libraries)
Civic leader, philanthropist and longtime friend of Temple University F. Eugene “Fitz” Dixon Jr. died Aug. 2. He was 82. Fitz, as he liked to be called, was a member of Temple’s Board of Trustees from 1970 to 1983 and served as its chairman from 1977 until 1983. He chaired the board’s executive, health sciences, business and finance, and development committees and also was the first elected chairman of the Board of Governors of Temple University Hospital.
“Mr. Dixon helped lead Temple University during an important phase of its development, and he remained a steadfast supporter of the University,” said Temple President Ann Weaver Hart. “We are saddened by his passing but consider ourselves fortunate to have been graced by his care and wisdom.”
During his tenure on Temple’s board, Dixon developed a special vision for the Ambler Campus, where the two main classroom buildings — Dixon Hall and Widener Hall — are named for Dixon and his family. In 1969, he donated an English-style, 30-room estate in Chestnut Hill to Temple that became part of the University’s Albert M. Greenfield Conference Center. It was named the Eleanor Widener Dixon House, in memory of his mother.
“Fitz Dixon helped guide the Temple University Hospital and the Health Sciences Center, as well as the entire University, through difficult challenges and was invaluable in dealing with students, faculty, the state legislature and the governor’s office,” recalled former Temple President Marvin Wachman. “He was exceedingly generous with his time, energy and financial resources in paving the way for the positive developments at Temple University during the decades following his service. His interest in health care and in men’s and women’s athletics was vital to success in those areas. I was privileged to work closely with Fitz for over 12 years.”
Dixon was the grandson of the late George D. Widener, who died on the Titanic, and was heir to one of Philadelphia’s largest family fortunes, which was amassed in the streetcar business. Dixon was a teacher at Episcopal Academy for 17 years, teaching classes in history, English, French and health; he also coached their squash team and served as director of athletics and assistant to the headmaster of the school.
Dixon is best known to many Philadelphians for his role as the former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the man responsible for bringing “Dr. J” Julius Irving to the team. Committed to cultural and educational causes throughout his lifetime, he is credited with saving the LOVE statue for the city of Philadelphia after the bicentennial celebration and facilitating the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s acquisition of a treasured Degas painting, “After the Bath,” in 1980 and a Copley portrait in 1999. He also was active as president and trustee of the Widener Memorial Foundation in Aid of Handicapped Children, based in Lafayette Hill. All of the foundation’s giving is restricted to the Delaware Valley to assist orthopedically handicapped children.
Following his service on Temple’s Board of Trustees, Dixon was appointed by Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh to the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. He had been a member of the Fairmount Park Commission and also served on the boards of several local institutions, including Abington Memorial Hospital, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Germantown Hospital and Medical Center, and Widener University.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., Philadelphia.
— James Duffy and Harriet Goodheart