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2010 UNSUNG HEROES

Phillip Fox

Phillip Fox

Phillip Fox in the lobby of Missouri Baptist Medical Center, where he volunteers. Photo: Lisa Mandel

Hundreds of people come through the main entrance of Missouri Baptist Medical Center every day. Four days a week, they are greeted by Phillip Fox, who sits, smiling, in his wheelchair, waiting to see how he might be of service.

"Every day, I get all sorts of questions," says Fox. "The campus is so big - people come in and they can't find the department they are looking for, so a lot of times, I just head down the hall with them. I love to see the new grandparents come in the door, though sometimes, they meant to go to St. John's. Some people come in upset, even crying. I do whatever I can to help."

On April 18, at a brunch celebrating National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Fox received his 4,000-hour pin from the hospital for his work. He earned that pin in just three years. "We have over 350 adult volunteers, and Phillip is the only person who works four days a week," says Pattie Browning, manager of volunteer and auxiliary services at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. "He is extremely loyal and dependable."

More than that, Browning said, Fox is a leader. "The staff relies on him. They often seek his opinion, his advice - and Phillip is proactive about making suggestions to make everything work more smoothly," says Browning. "He truly is a rare individual."

Fox and his wife, Arlene, closed their kitchen and bath business in 2007. "When you own your own business, you do not have a lot of spare time," says Fox. "We pretty much worked 24-7. Oh, we took time to work with the scouts and school activities with the kids, but it was busy."

Fox retired, but he didn't stay retired. "I was retired for two days," he says. "Then a guy across the street told me he worked as a volunteer at Barnes West. As it happened, I had to be at Missouri Baptist right after that, so I signed up there. Volunteering is the greatest thing in my life. No - volunteering is my life."

Arlene Fox says the work is good for her husband. "When he's home for a couple of days, there is nothing for him to do, and he is limited in the places he can go," she says. "He is very happy with the volunteer work, and thinks of it as his job. That's been very helpful."

Arlene worked as a volunteer in the gift shop at Missouri Baptist Medical Center for a while, and then took a full-time paid position there, registering people scheduled to come in for surgery or tests. On her husband's day off each week, the two have lunch together. Sometimes, Arlene has a story to share with him about himself. "One day, a nurse told me that she and other staff members consider Phillip the official greeter for the hospital," says Arlene with a quiet pride. "She made a point of telling me how nice he is to everybody."

Another day, Arlene stopped by the front desk to speak to her husband. "A man was talking to Phillip, and the man turned to me and said that he hoped they paid Phillip well, because he does a good job. Of course they don't pay him - but sometimes, it's not about money. The hospital is an outlet for him, a place for him to go."

Born in Louisville, Ky., Fox settled in St. Louis to be closer to family. Almost 40 years ago, he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. "It's a form of the disease that a lot of people have, and only 10 percent get it bad enough that they can't walk. I'm one of those people," says Fox. "I used a scooter for about 10 years and then got the wheelchair three years ago. It has not slowed me down."

The wheelchair has not kept Fox from one of his greatest pleasures, either. "Even all through my years with the business, I didn't care about money," says Fox. "Just put me in the middle of people. I am a people person. The more I can help you, I will - and the better off I will feel, and you too."

Now, at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, four days a week, Fox is surrounded by people, people who need his help to get to their appointments, sign in for their tests, find a friend who is in the hospital. "Each day, I'm ready to get up and go. I see a lot of people, and I enjoy working with them," he says. "It's just the best -helping people."


Phillip Fox

AGE: 67  

FAMILY: Married to Arlene, three children (Allen, 42; Julie 39; and Brett, 36), eight grandchildren

HOME: Creve Coeur 

OCCUPATION: Retired from the kitchen and bath business

CURRENT PASTIME:  Helping to plan his 50th high school reunion (University City High School, Class of 1961)