By JOAN SULLIVAN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Coming of age in pre-Confederation St.
John's, Cy Fox was a cosmopolitan man of letters and a citizen of the world, a global scholar and traveller. Even as he worked from New Jersey to New Delhi, his heart was in Newfoundland.
And his obsession with the early-20th century writer, painter and critic Wyndham Lewis led him to compile the premiere collection dedicated to the rebellious modernist. Mr. Fox died on July 10. He was 86.
Cyril James Fox was born July 26, 1931, in St. John's, into a very political Irish Catholic family. He was the eldest son of Mary and Justice C. J. Fox, who was the first chairman of the National Convention, assembled after the Second World War to determine Newfoundland's political future.
His maternal grandfather, Sir Michael Cashin, was a Newfoundland prime minister in 1919, and Mr.
Fox's maternal uncle, Major Peter Cashin, a leading anti-Confederate.
Mr. Fox, with his four sisters and younger brother, lived at a "leafy, flowered homestead" known as Mount Pleasant, according to his memoirs, New World, Old World: Bridging the North Atlantic (2009). From there they watched the 1936 "cosmic visitation" of the Hindenburg.
In 1946, Justice Fox collapsed while the Convention was in session and died. In 1948 Newfoundlanders chose in two referendums to join Canada.
Mr. Fox would mourn both his father and his country.
A quiet and gentle boy, he was the opposite of athletic, and such a bookworm that his grandmother, Lady Gertrude (Mullowney) Cashin, nicknamed him "Smell the Moon" because he was always dreaming about what he was reading instead of concentrating on the practical task of making money.
To that end, his family sent him one season to the Grand Banks fishery. He was seasick, hated every moment and, to the end of his life, loathed fishing.
He attended St. Bonaventure's College, then entered Memorial University College in 1948, transferring to St. Francis Xavier, in Antigonish, N.S., after Confederation and finishing his BA there. He won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1952 and entered Merton College, Oxford.
After his first summer, which he spent hitchhiking around Germany, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. During his convalescence, on a classmate's recommendation, he first read a work by Mr. Lewis: The Revenge for Love, a satirical political thriller written before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Mr. Fox didn't finish his law degree at Oxford, but in 1957 enrolled at Columbia University in New York, where he completed his master's in modern history in 1959. Instead of pursuing a doctorate, in 1961 Mr.
Fox started reporting for the Associated Press in Newark, N.J. This was the beginning of a career of headline-making, wire-service adventures.
Two years later he transferred to the Canadian Press, based in Montreal, in the rising days of the Front de libération du Québec. In 1967, soon after he published his first article on Lewis and bought his first Lewis artwork, he was posted to London with a roving beat, covering stories in Tripoli, Cairo, Brussels and Bucharest, as well as the Parisian student riots, the Troubles in Northern Ireland (he kept a rubber bullet as a memento) and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
In 1974 he became chief subeditor of the Reuters world desk at Fleet Street. He disliked the snobbery of English society, but loved the beer.
"I took to the pub scene with an enthusiasm born not so much as a lust for alcohol as from enjoyment of drink and of the public house as house," he wrote.
He was also seconded to Hong Kong and New Delhi.
He retired from Reuters in 1986, living at first in South London writing freelance articles and book reviews, and returned to Canada in 1994, living in Toronto and then Victoria before returning to St.
John's. Although he had serious romantic relationships from time to time, he never married.
During his time as a journalist he edited four anthologies of Lewis's writing, and sought out his art and literature, amassing one of the world's largest Wyndham Lewis collections of more than 770 items, including self-portraits, book and magazine covers, prints, core publications, obscure volumes, rare pamphlets such as Anglosaxony, limited and signed editions, posters, and ephemera.
Why Lewis? "I was seized by this character and he has never let go," he told The Globe and Mail in 2009.
"Very outspoken. Very honest. Direct.
Exciting in the extreme." Mr. Lewis was a proponent of Vorticism, a short-lived avant-garde movement in British visual art featuring bold, harsh abstraction and a fascination with machines. The name, coined by poet Ezra Pound, references the energy of a vortex. The Vorticists held their only group exhibition in London in 1915 and subsequently disbanded.
Mr. Fox never met Lewis, although he once set out to have some books autographed, only to falter in his shyness. But he befriended Lewis's widow, Froanna (her husband's nickname for her, a contraction of "Frau Anna"), in 1965, and she helped him shape his collection and his reputation as a recognized expert.
He was asked to lecture on the writer, painter and critic from Kensington Library to Memorial University, and was a trustee of the Wyndham Lewis Society.
In 2006 he donated his collection to the University of Victoria.
Although periodic health issues, which he called colitis, forced him to give up his beloved brew, he remained an engaging raconteur, making an entrance with a booming "Cheerio."
"He had a remarkable voice," said historian Peter Neary, by e-mail, adding that Mr. Fox had an evercurious mind. "In the last week of his life, we chatted on the phone about a history he had been reading of Breslau/Wroclaw," Mr. Neary wrote. "After he died, I received a postcard from him that ended, 'See you in Wroclaw.' (Cy did not transition to the Internet. He still sent me newspaper clippings.) Cy was a keen student of the history of the two world wars and yearned for a fresh understanding by Newfoundlanders of their role in the 1914-18 conflict."
Mr. Fox died of congestive heart failure, his niece Colleen Fox said. He had had Sunday dinner with family, "where he was in fine form and telling stories, then died reading a book in his chair," the following Tuesday afternoon. "He still had his glasses on." He leaves his brother, David, and many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
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Cy Fox looks at the impressive collection of works by Wyndham Lewis that he collected, and then donated, to the University of Victoria in 2006. Mr. Fox managed to collect more than 770 items related to Lewis, including rare and limited-edition publications.
DEDDEDA STEMLER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL