It was a hot, muggy afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
Lance Palmer, draped in a black graduation robe on the field alongside fellow faculty members, was having trouble staying engaged as the event wore on.
“I admit I was dozing off ever so slightly,” he recalled, smiling sheepishly at the now decade-old memory.
About that time, his new dean, Linda Kirk Fox, barely a year into her tenure, approached the podium to address graduates from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“She started talking about very specific programming at FACS, and she mentioned the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program I’m a part of,” Palmer said. “Sometimes that first year you don’t really see the dean that much, but I realized then Dean Fox knows what we do and she cares about what we do, and it was really exciting. That woke me up fast.”
During her 10-year career as FACS dean, Fox developed a reputation as a meticulous, forward-thinking leader. Under her leadership, enrollment in the college increased by 20 percent, funded research doubled and the number of endowed professors grew from five to 15.
The college was “transformed by Dean Fox’s extraordinary vision and compassionate leadership,” UGA President Jere Morehead said upon her retirement in August 2021.
Fox, who spent her entire 40-year-career in higher education at land-grant universities, said she was drawn to the system’s “future-focused” mission and emphasis on teamwork.
“I really enjoyed witnessing other people think bigger systems – it’s not all about me, it’s what can we all achieve together,” Fox said. “I see that as a system and a culture that not only do I appreciate, but I find it most successful.”
Fox’s reputation as a national leader was widely known even before she arrived in Athens, and her impact on the college immediate.
“She definitely had a presence and a national reputation,” said Allisen Penn, the college’s associate dean for Extension and outreach. “You know how some people when they walk in a room they just have that sense of self and that sense of comfort in who they are? She always seemed to have that ability and always came across as being highly intelligent, articulate and well-informed.”
Prior to being named dean at UGA, Fox held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, where she served as dean and director of WSU Extension from 2005-2011.
Throughout her time at FACS, she helped facilitate millions of dollars of facility upgrades, including the complete renovation of a 1930s home management house into the world-class Charles Schwab Financial Planning Center in 2019.
Palmer, a longtime member of the financial planning faculty, noted during those negotiations and others Fox was always “ready to make a deal” for the betterment of the college.
“She was willing to break down some barriers for us and to champion us at the higher levels on campus but also support us as we go out to other places,” he said. “She really led the college to a whole new level to where it was deeply respected across campus – and still is – but a lot of that is because of her leadership.”
A natural leader
Throughout her career, Fox served in various leadership roles at both the university and national levels, including co-chairing the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program task force and serving two terms on the board of directors of The Association of Public Land-grant Universities Board on Health and Human Sciences.
In 2020, she led the college through the turbulent early days of the pandemic, when classes abruptly moved to remote learning and a flurry of new challenges seemed to crop up daily.
Her calm in the midst of the storm helped reassure many, Penn said.
“She never met a crisis,” Penn said. “She’s just the most composed person I’ve ever known, and that really radiated throughout her leadership. She really cared a lot about people and she cared a lot about this college. That kind of leadership has a lot of depth to it.”
Since returning to Oregon, Fox has stayed busy in retirement. She is employed part-time as a project team coach for the national Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching and Engagement (EXCITE) and conducts video interviews of residents for the in-house television channel of the 500-resident retirement community where she lives.
“I learn something new every day,” she said.
She’s also interested in philanthropy, having established the Dean Linda Kirk Fox Graduate Fellowship and the Dean Linda Kirk Fox Scholarship for Academic Excellence within FACS, owing to the special role the college and university played in her life.
“The decade I spent at the University of Georgia was magic,” Fox said. “So I think it’s so logical that you want to invest in a place that’s enduring. I gained so much from the University of Georgia that was also personally life-enriching that I feel I owe a debt of gratitude.”
You won’t interact with Lynn Bailey long before hearing about folate.As a young researcher, Bailey became so engrossed in her research into the essential B vitamin, required for normal growth and development, that it would become a part of her identity.
Folate was in her email address and eventually even on her license plate.
“It leads to some very insightful conversations in parking lots,” she said, laughing.
Bailey was already publishing widely on the subject when the monumental discovery in the early 1990s linking folic acid supplementation to the prevention of debilitating neural tube defects like spina bifida rocked the scientific community.
“That changed everything globally,” Bailey said. “We all just stopped in our tracks.”
Soon, Bailey became a prominent collaborator on national and international projects related to addressing maternal folate deficiency, a major cause of NTDs.
She was part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee that recommended folic acid fortification to the U.S. government in the mid-1990s. Once it became law, the number of NTDs began to plummet nationwide.
The experience of working with expectant mothers, research collaborators and government agencies to help prevent birth defects was exhilarating and personally gratifying, she said.
“I was so motivated and so in awe of the fact that I was participating in this national endeavor,” she said. “It was life changing.”
After 33 years as a faculty member and prominent researcher at the University of Florida, Bailey was named department head in what was then the department of foods and nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences in 2011. Her hiring would dramatically transform the department and the college.
“As a doctoral student coming into the department at the time, you hear that name in lectures as an undergraduate and knowing you’re going to be interacting and rubbing elbows with Lynn Bailey, it changes your frame of mind,” said Joseph Kindler, now an assistant professor in the department. “It lights a fire under you because you know that’s who you’re aspiring to be.”
Life on the farm
Bailey’s passion for nutrition began early in life. She grew up on a farm in tiny Wagener, S.C., where the family grew most of their food.
“I loved the idea of learning which foods were the best sources of specific nutrients and how this knowledge provided the basis of designing diets that promoted optimal health from the cradle to the grave,” she said.
The county Extension agent who directed the local 4-H program took a special interest in Bailey and would become a transformative figure in her life. The agent helped Bailey with special food-related projects, including one that won a state competition and earned Bailey a flight to Chicago for the national 4-H Congress.
Inspired by her early forays into nutrition education, Bailey went on to receive three degrees in the field.
“It wouldn’t have happened without her,” Bailey said of the agent. “She changed my whole life.”
Bailey was drawn to UGA for a few reasons. Besides putting her closer to her roots in South Carolina, the move also gave her the opportunity to lead and mentor a diverse faculty while continuing her research program.
Barbara Grossman, clinical professor emerita who arrived at the college in 1981, still recalls Bailey’s initial presentation during her job interview.
“After sitting there for about 20 minutes, I thought ‘I’ve been in this college for decades and she seems to know more about it than I do,’ ” she said, laughing. “That was a very positive impression and I would say one of her main characteristics was how professional but also how thorough she is.”
Under Bailey’s leadership, and with the support of then-dean Linda Kirk Fox, the department grew from 14 faculty members to 28 during Bailey’s 11-year tenure and saw significant facilities upgrades, improved collaborations with other institutions and the addition of an online degree program.
Faculty members used words like poised, nurturing, selfless and visionary to describe Bailey’s leadership style. Most noted, though, was the encouragement she provided faculty.
“Despite her being this rock star, that was never something that went to her head,” Kindler said. “She was always there to support her students, her faculty and get them to where they needed and wanted to go.”
Most importantly, Bailey said she was motivated by the desire to mentor students and faculty, particularly young faculty just starting out in their careers.
She made a point to meet with each of them every month to encourage and guide them, having experienced similar mentorship as a young faculty member herself.
“I feel that was more valuable than anything I’ve ever done in my professional career, just watching them succeed,” she said.
It’s that personal touch, even more than her astounding scientific contributions, that faculty say will be one of her greatest legacies.
“She was very visionary, but she also led with understanding,” said associate professor Caree Cotwright. “I think that’s very important. As a leader, you have to be able to connect with people emotionally as well as inspire and motivate people to reach their goals. She was just wonderful at that and an exemplary leader.”