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Francis Henry Fox, D.V.M. '45. Image: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Francis Henry Fox, D.V.M. '45. Image: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. See larger image

Faculty Legends: Francis Henry Fox

Nothing says legend like a coterie of true believers who repaint a birthday counter ("FH FOX IS 89," "FH FOX IS 90," and now "FH FOX IS 91") on a Varna, N.Y., railroad bridge a couple of miles northeast of the college where Francis Henry Fox, D.V.M. '45, taught large-animal medicine – and played pranks – for 40 years.

Former students are equally awed by Fox's "wicked sense of humor" and his "preternatural diagnostic powers," which saved the lives of countless livestock that down-on-their-luck farmers could ill afford to lose.

F.H. Fox

F.H. Fox "Wanted!" poster. Image: provided. See larger image

In the same breath, they recall a perennial prank: At the end of a long day of farm visits, exhausted students piled into the car with Fox at the wheel. One gullible student – sometimes a volunteer hoping to curry the professor's favor – was sent back to the barn for a "forgotten" instrument. Fox and crew drove off.

Hitchhiking back to campus, the sucker planned revenge: Farm animals packed into Fox's office, furniture transplanted to the roof, a dozing professor bound to his chair with adhesive tape.

"I did play tricks on students," Fox confessed in a recent interview at his Ithaca home. "They played tricks on me, and I enjoyed the whole thing. It keeps life interesting."

F.H. Fox birthday banners

F.H. Fox birthday banners at the College of Veterinary Medicine and over Route 366. Image: Provided.

In a way, bridge painting is the ultimate joke on a man in birthday denial (Fox called them "tragedies"). "FH FOX IS 69" was the first, splashed on a ventilator shaft at the college in 1992, courtesy of second-year vet students. After that, third-year students moved the counter to the bridge over Route 366.

The penultimate "prank" must be the F.H. Fox Scholarship, endowed by former students and announced ("Surprise!") at a statewide veterinary meeting. Each year a couple veterinary students are financially aided while learning to practice the profession Fox loved.

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