My grandmother Madeline Fox has passed away four days before her 97th birthday.
My earliest memories of Nana are visiting her in the Joseph Fox Bookshop, the store she owned and operated with my grandfather Joe at 1724 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. I remember descending down the narrow staircase into the basement storefront. The circle of gold keys sunk in the cement landing below. I remember how the bells would ring when I threw the door open revealing the warmth of yellow light and the smell of a thousand books.
My grandmother would be behind the counter. Her dark brown eyes would peer over the tall stacks of paperbacks in acknowledgment of my entrance. She’d invite me back to raid her teeming basket of candy. I would always pick butterscotch, which I liked twice as much because it was both of our favorites.
Nana generously kept my bookshelves well-stocked. From classic children’s books to literature in hardcover; she even humored those pre-teen years when all I wanted to read was the Saddle Club. As I grew to be a twenty-something woman spending time in the city, I loved stopping in to surprise her. By this time, Papa had passed and my uncle and aunt ran the store in the family tradition. Now occupying the first-floor storefront, when I climbed the stairs and opened the door, Nana was still there behind the counter. She’d smile her big grin and offer a butterscotch.
As I got to know my grandmother in my adult life, I came to learn that I had inherited many of her more defining characteristics. Some of her most admirable traits, sure, but also some more debatable ones like her stubbornness. If we ever butted heads over some silly little thing, I learned to grin at her and say: “You’ve met your match, Madeline Fox.” She’d burst into proud laughter, graciously allowing her grandaughter to be more stubborn than she.
After she stopped working in the bookstore, Nana always had a stack of titles to read, taller than the time allotted. She’d also have a pile for me, and one for each member of the rest of our family. Nana and I shared a particular love for Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, and J.M. Barrie, to name a few. In the past few years when her mind started to slip, I found comfort discovering little notes she had left me as bookmarks, explaining how wonderful this title was and why that other thing made her think of me. Leaving notes for each other in books was a tradition that came to be between her and my grandfather. Finding one was like receiving a hug from the past.
I know I’ll unearth Nana notes like this for years to come. I will dearly miss the matriarch of our Fox family. She was a true gift in my life, an interesting woman who challenged and influenced my opinions on everything from sushi to true love. She lived a long life and for that I am grateful.
Below is an obituary my family put together to honor Madeline Fox’s memory. If you knew my grandmother or the Joseph Fox Bookshop, join us in spirit as we celebrate her life.
Madeline Fox, 96
Madeline Fox (née Fried) died peacefully in her home on Friday, May 15, 2020, just four days before her 97th birthday.
Madeline was born on May 19, 1923 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, to parents Ellis and Elizabeth Fried. She had three older siblings, Cecilia, Samuel, and Beth. On December 7, 1942 she married Joseph Fox (1914–1998).
Madeline and husband Joe lived in Philadelphia their entire marriage. They had two sons, David and Michael. They are best known for the book store they founded and operated, Joseph Fox Bookshop, at 1724 Sansom Street. Madeline’s intellectual curiosity was contagious. Through the bookstore, Madeline established a reputation as an engaging, respected and inspiring resource in Philadelphia and beyond.
Madeline is survived by her son David and spouse Terry; their three children: grandson Nikolai; grandson Daniel, spouse Gabriela and their daughter Leonora; and granddaughter Avi; and by son Michael and spouse Judi. Michael and Judi continue to operate Joseph Fox Bookshop in the family tradition
Madeline was a beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her strength of character as well as her enthusiasm for conversation and learning was foundational, both in the family and greater community of Philadelphia. She will be dearly missed.
No service will be held. In honor of Madeline’s love of Philadelphia and music, donations in her memory to Play on Philly are welcome.
Stay in touch: Join my mostly-monthly newsletter