KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Funeral services were held here for Louis Fox, former president of Associated Wholesale Grocers here, who was known in the industry as "the father of backhaul."
Fox, 79, died Jan. 23 at his winter home in Singer Island, Fla., the day after returning from the Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. According to his daughter, he succumbed to an aneurysm.
He was AWG president from 1968 until his retirement in 1983 and continued on the cooperative's board, and maintained an office there, until he was felled by a stroke a few years ago.
He had recovered physically from the stroke, although his speech was impaired.
Fox played a significant role in the 1970s in the enactment of legislation that allowed empty trucks that had delivered their cargoes to pick up merchandise from manufacturer warehouses they passed on their way back.
According to Robert Aders, founding chairman of the FMI, "Until Lou got the government's Productivity Commission on our side in the early 1970s, we had made no headway on the backhaul issue. And Lou was the only guy I know who celebrated the fuel crisis in the early 1970s because he said it would force the government to accept backhaul in order to conserve fuel."
Byron Allumbaugh, the just-retired chairman of Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., recalled last week, "As a wholesaler it meant a lot to him and his wholesale customers that AWG trucks on the road were going by manufacturer plants empty on their way back to the warehouse instead of carrying some sort of payload."
Michael DeFabis, AWG's current president and chief executive officer, said Fox was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the company that AWG is today.
"And even after his retirement, he continued to make himself available to the company's executives and customers, and it's no joke when I tell you his stamp on this company was so strong that there may be some members who never realized he had retired."
Fred Ball, chairman of AWG and president of Balls Food Stores here, said Fox was highly respected.
"There was never any doubt about his honesty, his integrity and his approach to doing the right thing for all people. He was like Solomon in his judgment, and when he made a decision, everyone admired and respected it because they knew it was inevitably the right decision."
Ben Schwartz, retired president of Foods Co., Los Angeles, called Fox "a giant in the industry, who led AWG brilliantly. He was way ahead of his time in the way he understood both the wholesale and retail sides of the business."
Neil Golub, president and chief operating officer of Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., cited Fox's ability "to create opportunities and settle arguments."
Fox served on Price Chopper's board for more than 20 years, and it was that connection that enabled AWG to call its franchised stores Price Chopper, Golub noted.
Allumbaugh praised Fox's skill "in smoothing relationships with manufacturers, at a time we were just learning how to talk with each other on a person-to-person basis." F
ox began his food career as the butcher at a small store that he and his wife owned in Washington, called Fox's Economy Market.
In 1948 he took a job as vice president of District Grocery Stores in Washington and moved up to president in 1950 before joining AWG in March 1956 as operations manager of AWG's Kansas City division.
He was named general manager of the company in 1957 and held that post until he was named president in 1968. When he retired in 1983 he was given the title honorary chairman of the board and continued to serve as a consultant to the company.
Fox was a founding director of the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, and received the FMI's Sidney Rabb Award in 1982 for industry statesmanship and community service.
He is survived by his wife, Dora; two daughters -- Irene Goodman and Helen Guckenheimer; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.