William Basil Fox


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has cataloged about 140 vascular plant specimens collected by William Basil Fox, who usually signed his labels “W. B. Fox”.  Most specimens were collected in North Carolina between 1945 and 1951.  As we continue to catalog our collections it is likely that we will find many more specimens collected by him.

Fox served as Curator of the North Carolina State College Herbarium (NCSC) from 1947 to 1952.2

The herbaria of West Virginia University (WVA; ~ 730 cataloged thus far) and North Carolina State University (NCSC; ~ 1665 cataloged thus far) are major repositories for Fox’s vascular plant specimens.  Despite his short collecting career, Fox’s specimens can be found in herbaria across North America including Academy of Natural Sciences (PH), Appalachian State University (BOON), Austin Peay State University (APSC), Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT & BRIT-SMU), Brigham Young University (BRY), California Botanic Garden (CalBG-RSA), Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CM), Clemson University (CLEMS), Northern Arizona University (ASC), Duke University (DUKE), Emory University (GEO), Field Museum (F), Georgia Southern University (GAS), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSMNP), Harvard University (GH; major repository), Indiana University (IND, Utah State University (UTC), Iowa State University (ISC), James Madison University (JMUH), Kent State University (KE), Louisiana State University (LSU), University of Texas at Austin (TEX and LL; Fox’s specimens collected in Mexico), Marshall University (MUHW), James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity Studies (UNCC), Miami University (MU), Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences (MMNS), Mississippi State University (MISSA), Missouri Botanical Garden (MO), New York Botanical Garden (NY; major repository), Pennsylvania State University (PAC), Rutgers University (CHRB), Slippery Rock University (SLRO), Texas A&M University (TAES; Fox’s collections from Mexico), Troy University (TROY), University of Alabama (UNA), University of Arizona (ARIZ), University of Colorado (COLO), Florida Museum of Natural History (FLAS), University of Georgia (GA), University of Kansas (KANU), University of Louisiana at Lafayette (LAF), University of Michigan (MICH), University of Minnesota (MIN), University of South Carolina, Columbia (USCH), University of South Florida (USF), University of Tennessee, Knoxville (TENN), University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UCHT), University of Wisconsin, Madison (WIS), Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), Washington State University (WS), West Virginia Wesleyan College (WVW), and William & Mary (WILLI).5

Bryophytes collected by him are curated by West Virginia University (WVU; 14 specimens) and University of Tennessee, Knoxville (TENN; 1 specimen).  His few fungal collections are curated by Washington State University (WSP; 1 specimen), Purdue University (PUR; 1 specimen), University of Tennessee, Knoxville (TENN; 1 specimen) and U.S. National Fungus Collection (BPI; ~ 30 specimens).6,7


“In a shocking accident at Raleigh on November 13, William Basil Fox, assistant professor of botany at North Carolina State College, and president of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Club, was killed when a .22 rifle was accidentally discharged. He was 37 years of age, and among the most promising young botanists of the East.

Dr. Fox was born at Talcott, W. Va. [West Virginia], July 20, 1915, and attended grade schools in Summers County, W. Va. He received a B.S. degree from West Virginia University in 1939 and an M.S. in 1940 from the same institution. His Ph.D. was from the University of Iowa in 1942. During the war he was an instructor in radar in the U.S. Air Force, from 1942 to 1945. After the conclusion of hostilities he served as assistant agronomist at the Agricultural Experiment Station of Washington, at Pullman (1945-1946). He received his appointment to the staff of North Carolina State College in 1946.

In addition to this club, which he was serving as president, he was a member of the Botanical Society of America, the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the Association of Southeastern Biologists, and the North Carolina Academy of Science. He had published numerous articles on the flora of North Carolina, and and studied the Leguminosae of Iowa, West Virginia, and North Carolina. He had just returned from a botanical expedition to Baja California.

He was married in 1944 to Helen Lee Hensleigh, who survives him. They had only one child, Stephen.

Dr. B. W. Wells, of the botany department at North Carolina State College, said, “It has been a terrible blow to all of us here for Bill was universally held in the highest regard. His course in dendrology was second to none and as curator of the Herbarium he had enlarged it and increased is efficiency far more than any other contributor had done. Bill will be almost irreplaceable.”

Dr. P. D. Strausbagh, under whom he studied at West Virginia University, commented: “In all of his work, he was enthusiastic, persistent, patient, and thorough. Back of his quiet, self-effacing manner there was a strength of character and forcefulness of industry that became so clearly apparent in his altruistic outlook and rich achievement.””1


From the “History” portion of the North Carolina State University Herbarium’s website:

“William Basil Fox, born in Talcott, West Virginia, received his doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1942 and subsequently served as a technical radar instructor for the U.S. War Department from 1942-1945. Following a one year stint as Assistant Agronomist at the Experiment Station of the State College of Washington, Fox joined the North Carolina State University (then N.C. State College) Department of Botany as Assistant professor in 1946 and became the first curator of NCSC in 1947. Departmental faculty, such as B.W. Wells, I.V. Shunk, and M.F. Buell, had maintained collections prior to his arrival, for teaching purposes or associated with various ecological research (Whitford, unpubl.). It was Fox who first took to systematically arranging the collection and keeping accession records. Although it remains unclear how many specimens Fox collected, preliminary data resulting from recent cataloguing efforts show Fox to have collected about 15 % (n = 482) of the 3326 specimens captured. Praised by contemporaries for his teaching and investigation skills (Whitford, unpubl.; Lynch, 1952), Fox’s tenure at NCSC was prematurely cut short in November 1952 by his accidental death at the hands of his not quite five year old son. The tragedy occurred early one morning after Fox had turned over to return to sleep after playing with his son. The child took the .22 caliber rifle, which Fox sometimes used to shoot twigs off trees for collecting, out of the closet and, not realizing it was loaded, shot him in the back of the head. Fox was 37 at the time. He was laid to rest in New Hope Cemetery, Talcott, West Virginia.”2


“Dr. William Basil Fox, 37, a former resident of Barger Springs, assistant head of the Botany Department of North Carolina State College, was fatally shot under mysterious circumstances at his home in Raleigh, N. C., early last Wednesday morning. The fatal shooting was described as accidental, but police officers who investigated were quoted as saying there was no way of telling exactly what did happen.’ The investigating officers learned that he had been romping with his four and one-half year old son, Stephen, and had called to his wife to come and get the boy as he wanted to go back to sleep. Mrs. Fox did not go to the room immediately and shortly afterwards heard a muffled sound. Entering the room she found her husband lying on the bed with his head in a pool of blood and the rifle by his side. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital to which he was taken. , Officers ruled out the possibility of the wound being self-inflicted as the bullet entered the back of his head, lodging in the forehead. They expressed the belief that when the boy got off the bed he saw the loaded gun in a corner of the closet, and in some manner accidentally discharged it, the bullet striking-his father. Mr. Fox was the son of William (“Bill) Fox, of Barger Springs, and spent most of his life there. He held B. S. and M. S. degrees from West Virginia University, and a Ph.D. from Iowa State College. He had held a professorship at North Carolina State since 1946, and was previously employed at Washington State College, after his discharge from the Air Force following three years of service. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by his father, William Fox, of Barger Springs, and a sister.”3,9   
– From The Independent-Herald, Hinton, West Virginia, 20 Nov 1952, Thu • Page 1


Vulpia (named in honor of the late Dr. William Basil Fox (1915-1952), first curator of NCSC [fox: latin vulpes]) was one of the first, exclusively online, peer-reviewed, botanical journals. The journal was active for approximately ten years, from 2002 to 2012. Coverage included taxonomic treatments or keys to native and cultivated plants for the field, classroom, or forensics, exsiccatae supportive of treatments in floras, detailed discussions of nomenclature and typification, and pedagogical contributions.

We founded the journal as we felt that at the time there were a variety of scholarly areas that had no or insufficient outlets for publication. For example, many journals were reluctant to publish lengthy exsiccatae supportive of treatments in floras. We are very pleased that much has changed over time and that exciting new opportunities are now available for publishing such data in a much more sophisticated manner than we could ever hope to do with our limited resources. It was never our intent to compete with other journals, but merely to fill a void we believed existed at the time. Given the changes in the journal landscape over the last ten years, we no longer feel there is a need for Vulpia. We do not endorse any particular journal, but readers are invited to check out the Pensoft collection of journals as an example of a very multi-faceted publication program. We hope that additional journals will follow this lead, pushing descriptions of new taxa to EOL or similar platforms, exsiccatae to GBIF, etc., etc. For all those that have supported Vulpia through the years, we extend our heartfelt thanks.

We are committed to continuing to make available papers published in Vulpia in the past and have no plans to take down the web site or remove articles from the Directory of Open Access Journals.”4


Fox’s widow, Helen Lee Hensleigh (1922-2006),  was an elementary school teacher and a professor of education at several universities.  She died in 2006 and was survived by her son, Stephen William Fox, and by her third husband, Howard B. Wenger.8


Fox, William B., R. K. Godfrey, and H. L. Blomquist. 1950. Notes on distribution of  North Carolina Plants — II. Rhodora 52 (623): 253–71. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23304997.
Fox, William B., and R. K. Godfrey. 1949. Notes on distribution of North Carolina Plants — I. Rhodora 51 (607): 129–46. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23306098.
Fox, William B. 1948.  Notes on the distribution of Carya aquatica in North Carolina.  Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 64 (2): 237-240.
Fox, William Basil. 1942.  The Leguminosae in Iowa.  Ph.D. thesis, University of Iowa, Iowa City.
Fox, William B.  1940.  Two Carices new for West Virginia.  Castanea 5 (2): 23.

1.  Anonymous. 1952. SABC President killed in accident.CASTANEA 17(4): 166-167.
2.  https://herbarium.ncsu.edu/history.htm accessed on 18 July 2023.
3.  The Independent-Herald, Hinton, West Virginia, 20 Nov 1952, Thursday, Page 1.
4.  https://herbarium.ncsu.edu/vulpia/about.htm accessed on 19 July 2023.
5.  SERNEC Data Portal. 2023. http//:sernecportal.org/index.php. Accessed on July 19.
6. Consortium of Bryophyte Herbaria. 2023. http//:bryophyteportal.org/portal/index.php. Accessed on July 19.
7.  MyCoPortal . 2023. http://www.mycoportal.org/portal/index.php. Accessed on July 19.
8. Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/204358132/helen-lee-wenger: accessed 19 July 2023), memorial page for Helen Lee Hensleigh Wenger (21 Nov 1922–20 Jul 2006), Find a Grave Memorial ID 204358132, citing Maple Hill Cemetery, College Springs, Page County, Iowa, USA; Maintained by Rick Herbst (contributor 49158258).
9. Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6069016/william-basil-fox: accessed 19 July 2023), memorial page for William Basil Fox (20 Jul 1915–13 Nov 1952), Find a Grave Memorial ID 6069016, citing New Hope Church Cemetery, Monroe County, West Virginia, USA; Maintained by Rick Herbst (contributor 49158258).