Superior Court Judge Carl Fox has been a fixture in Orange and Chatham County courtrooms since 1978, when he first began his law career as an assistant district attorney. “After nearly 40 years of practicing law in the same community, I’ve made many, many friends and a few enemies along the way,” Fox says, laughing as he recalls some of his high-profile cases. “Overall, it’s been an extremely rewarding career and a real honor to serve.”
It has been a long and sometimes arduous road. But it began with two loving, rigorous parents, both teachers.
“My parents were strict. We had a big Encyclopedia Britannica in our living room, and we watched little television. Seeing us get good grades was a high priority for my parents.
“I remember when I was a young boy watching “Leave it to the Beaver” and Mr. Cleaver decided it was time for Beaver to get an allowance. I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever heard of so I approached my dad and asked him if I could start getting an allowance, too. The next day he walked me to the garage and pointed to the lawn mower and said, ‘There’s your allowance. Work for it.’”
And he did exactly that. His work ethic led him to apply to and get accepted by the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
“My dream to attend UNC helped my family from a financial standpoint but also changed my life in ways that I could never articulate. I would sit in the lobby of Morrison Dorm at first, and then Granville during Law School, and try to meet every person there. Then I decided to become a mixed-drink specialist, so I studied how to make every mixed-drink there was. From Whiskey Sours to Manhattan’s and grasshoppers, I was an expert.”
Yes, he made a lot of friends.
After graduating from UNC Law School, Fox was appointed to be an assistant district attorney in Chatham-Orange’s District 15B by Wade Barber, the former district attorney and judge.
In 1984, Fox became the first Black district attorney in state history. “I am grateful my parents were still alive to see that,” he says. In 2006, he became the first Black judge in the Chatham-Orange District.
“Carl Fox’s first election was one of the campaigns my mother and Rosetta Moore worked on until very late at night. They traveled across Northern Orange County getting people registered to vote. Mr. Fox was lauded to become the first Black District Attorney in the southeast. Mr. Fox won his election having the full support of the Northern Orange Black Voters Alliance. As DA, Mr. Fox was wedded to public safety. He solved an unsolved crime himself which led to a murder conviction and a sense of relief for two grieving families. Mr. Fox was a great employer who shared many pearls of wisdom. One such pearl is “a prosecutor’s job is to seek Justice. If you are expecting to win all the time you are in the wrong job.” Orange and Chatham counties are great places to live because of Judge Fox’s vision of public safety and community,” said Retired District Court judge Beverly Scarlett.
Then, in the spring of 2015, Fox says he felt a little “off.” He’d been losing weight, he tired easily, and his leg bothered him so much he’d begun limping. His internist ordered lab work and after a series of tests Fox was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a form of bone marrow cancer.
At the time, his best chance for recovery was with a bone marrow transplant, but the registry found no matches. He needed a genetic match, which was challenging, inasmuch as just seven percent of all bone marrow donors in the national registry are African American. Fox and his supporters took to Facebook, starting the “Save the Fox” campaign to help raise awareness about blood cancer, encourage donor registration, and hopefully find a donor match for Fox and others in need.
“They had given me three months to live, and I started getting my affairs in order,” he says. “I never could have dreamed that it would work out so well.”
UNC Lineberger Cancer Center found two cord blood units on the registry that were a close match for Fox. The units were quickly shipped from New York to North Carolina, and Fox’s medical team began preparing him for the transplant. This meant completely wiping out his immune system with chemotherapy and full body radiation so the new, healthy cord blood stem cells could be infused and begin reproducing on their own.
The rigorous road to health began on September 30, 2015, but finally, after quite the battle, in July 2016 Fox returned to Hillsborough’s Old Orange County Courthouse. The courtroom was packed that day. After a standing ovation, and not a few tears, a hush fell the room over as Fox addressed elected officials, community leaders, friends, and loved ones in attendance. It was an emotional return, a miraculous one. The Fox was back.
Carl Fox, Retired Sr. Resident Superior Court Judge of North Carolina, now provides mediation services through his law office in downtown Chapel Hill. He wears a suit and tie to work every day and the same smile that has carried him through more than six decades of a fulfilling law practice. He has made a lot of friends through the course of his life, but he has done much more than even that: he has kept them.
His parents would be proud.
Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.