Tom Fox

Born: July 11, 1958;

Died: May 15, 2024

Tom Fox, who has died suddenly at the age of 65, was a public relations and corporate communications specialist of impressive skill, good humour and easy charm.

His near 25-year association, as first, director of corporate affairs for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and then as a consultant, involved the frequently tricky task of explaining to the public and to politicians the issues facing the service.

One moment he could be fielding tabloid inquiries about drugs in a jail, the next briefing ministers about the shortcomings of proposals they had to reform the prison system.

And he was an invaluable consigliere to successive SPS chief executives as they navigated a system perennially challenged by a lack of money and chronic overcrowding.

The former Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Graeme Pearson said, “Tom was a man of great intelligence who was so well read. He knew something about everything.” The former Labour MSP continued “he displayed humour and kindness in insights that were always valuable”.

In all that he did, Tom Fox deployed an armoury of skills. He was always on top of the fine details of every issue, he explained the complex in simple terms, he rarely used confrontation as a means of conditioning the reporting of a story and his bonhomie and charm invited a sympathetic reportage.

Fox carried himself in the manner of a benevolent archbishop. Indeed, before the communications world came calling, he was a seminarian in Rome.

Although he decided a vocation was not for him, something of the grace that is found in some ministers of religion was a perceptible trait of this amusing and highly likeable man.

He handled media inquiries with great professionalism. He was always direct and honest in his answers and he engaged journalists in a friendly way. His badinage and flirty engagement sometimes masked a cultured mind and a well-rounded intellect.

His first major job was as the public relations officer for Monklands District Council, for nine years from 1987.

In the early 1990s Monklands became a byword for scandal as the local authority was engulfed in a series of allegations, indicting councillors for operating a nepotistic recruitment strategy and skewing expenditure towards “Catholic Coatbridge” at the expense of “Protestant Airdrie”.

As the MP for Monklands East was Labour leader John Smith, a story that received saturation coverage in the Scottish media went national, aided by a Tory attack chief called David Shaw, then the MP for Dover and once described by a tabloid newspaper as “the most odious MP in Britain”.

Fox was in the middle of this tsunami of negative publicity. He proffered utterly sound advice on how to deal with the reputational damage to the council but he was dealing with a political leadership who had a bunker mentality and a chief executive who was out of his depth.

Fox patiently knocked down every allegation against the Council but the “corrupt” narrative had taken hold, so much so that Monklandsgate had become the stuff of a stand-up comedy routine.

When Lord Nimmo Smith issued his findings of a statutory inquiry into the allegations, he found no evidence of wrongdoing by councillors, a conclusion Fox always substantially maintained was the case.

The former STV political correspondent Fiona Ross who covered the soap opera that was Monklandsgate said, “journalists are usually wary of press officers who try spinning a line. Tom was the exception, he gave straight answers, a rarity in the world of communications. As a result he was trusted and respected.”

After Monklands, he became the PR supremo for the newly created North Lanarkshire Council in 1996. In 1998 he was soon navigating fresh scandal, this time explaining a system of bonus and overtime payments which led to some staff being paid exorbitant sums of money, including a plumber who was paid £54,000 one year.

Two years earlier his sensitivity was in evidence as he fielded questions about an e-coli outbreak that claimed the lives of 21 elderly people in Lanarkshire.

In 2000 he joined the Scottish Prison Service where he worked until his death on the 15th of May.

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In many of the stories he dealt with, he was pushing against a media pack who often preferred to report scandal born from a furnace of allegations than simply report facts that Fox would patiently draw to their attention.

He was privately appalled by journalism he thought immersed itself in the cheap, whilst forever defending the necessity of a healthy fourth estate for the flushing of hypocrisy and incompetence in senior officials and elected leaders.

Fox loved holidaying in Italy, not surprising for a bon viveur who was happy swapping stories over a fine meal, washed down with an agreeable red wine.

Tom Fox was both liked and admired by many journalists, a rare, even unique accolade in a profession where corporate communications specialists sometimes see their role as to say and explain little, so long as reputations are kept intact.

He was an old fashioned PR man. He went into bat for accuracy and fairness in the reporting of issues he was paid to explain. He brought sound judgement and a wealth of experience to whatever he did. He was always a sane voice during a crisis, and his calmness and rational mind cut through the pursuit of the sensational.

Public discourse and the understanding of sometimes complex issues have benefitted enormously from his wisdom and communications skills. He was a model public servant.

Tom Fox was an urbane man who looked forward to a retirement indulging his good taste and always inquiring mind. It is a tragedy that this has been denied him.

He leaves behind his beloved wife Kitty, his life’s soulmate to whom he was utterly devoted.