02/28/15: Robb Fox

Main Line Times Column: Places We Love – Robb Fox

Often, standing directly behind a place we love is a person we love.  For Lower Merion Township, that person is Robb Fox.  Stepping down after 27 years of public service, Robb Fox is taking a well-deserved break to spend more time with his beloved family.  Last week Lower Merion’s Board of Commissioners honored Robb for his extraordinary service.  What makes Robb a person we love?  For this week’s column I will share a few ways we can all be inspired by Robb’s success.

Over the past 27 years, starting in 1987, Robb served as a member and chairman of Lower Merion’s Environmental Advisory Council (10 years), Planning Commission (seven years) and the Zoning Hearing Board (10 years).  We can thank former Commissioner Joe Manko for Robb’s first appointment.  Robb also served as the founding chairman for the Lower Merion Conservancy, providing leadership and vision as Rolling Hill Park was acquired and the Megargee cottage restored. Another success, noted by President Rogan, was his remarkable effort at leading the mediation process for the proposed development at the Merriam Estate. Robb gave half of his life to public service—no small task indeed and can you imagine how many hours this adds up to?

When the Commissioners honored Robb last week there was a long line of leaders wanting to thank and acknowledge Robb’s extraordinary service.  Commissioner Rosenzweig was quick to note that “what he has done, we will all benefit from.”  This was a big theme of the evening and was echoed in Manko’s comments when he ribbed Robb for serving one more day him, he said “you win but everyone wins because of you.” Robb’s perspective of one Lower Merion for all guided him in his decision-making and earned him much respect from all that he interacted with in his various roles.

President Liz Rogan was the first, and not the last, to extoll Robb’s virtues of creativity and leadership.  Commissioner Bernheim, who had the pleasure of coaching girls basketball with Robb in the past, noted that one word describes Robb in his chairman role, “impressive.”  This referred to Robb’s knowledge, fairness and manner in which he conducted himself in a hearing.  Commissioner Zelov made note of his consistent and defensible decisions while Commissioner Gordon added that Robb had an “incredible ability to allow people to be heard and the patience to do so.”  These comments paint a picture of someone with inspiring leadership qualities.

When I asked Robb about the formula for his leadership style, he shared a few key ingredients.  First, his objectives include being inclusive and transparent.  He gives people an opportunity to voice their concerns while he listens without pre-conceived ideas.  He also sets clear boundaries, is direct, and demands respect from all parties—the fundamentals of civil discourse.  In the end, this style impacts the way people feel about his decisions.  While all parties did not always agree at the end of the day, the decision and parties involved were all respected. An important skill that comes along with this leadership style is Robb’s extraordinary ability to simplify complicated problems and focus on the key issues.

Robb was quick to note that his success is also due to the people who support him. His own thank you remarks included a long list of supportive members of his family, colleagues and former teachers from Lower Merion’s school system.  Robb is a proud supporter of Lower Merion’s educational system, which taught him about hard work, hard competition and grace in both winning and losing.  Manko also noted that Robb took seriously Lower Merion’s High School charge to ‘enter to learn go forth to serve.’

As we think about places we love and what it takes to manage change, may we also go forth and serve continuing Robb’s legacy in Lower Merion and in our own communities along the Main Line.

Patty Thompson is the Executive Director of the Lower Merion Conservancy.  She can be reached at patty@lmconservancy.org.