Mike Fox said he should have died last month.
He was admitted to McCullough-Hyde Hospital in Oxford on Dec. 2 after he collapsed in his home. He was in hospitals, both McCullough-Hyde and Bethesda North in Hamilton County, until Dec. 18, and he doesn’t remember most of that time. While he was in the hospital, he said his heart “completely stopped, and I don’t know how long it stopped.”
“There’s no rational basis for me being alive,” said Fox, 69.
The experience has led to reflection for the one-time controversial politician, who served longer in the Statehouse than any other Butler County lawmaker and was also a former county commissioner — and who also later served four years in prison for wire fraud and filing a false tax return.
Butler County GOP Executive Chair Todd Hall said Fox, despite the prison term, “will leave a lasting legacy within the county and in the Republican Party.”
”Really, it extends to both extremes. When my grandfather, Carlos Todd, was chairman of this party, he recognized Mike’s incredible political talent and also his tendency to stir controversy. There will be many detractors, but I think Mike will mostly be remembered for his energy and accomplishments for our county. He was instrumental in building an important highway, among other notable projects. I do hope Mike’s health improves, and he is around to share his knowledge for many years to come,” Hall said.
In addition to the congestive heart failure, Fox also had double pneumonia and was affected by E.coli. He believes he might have suffered a stroke, as his left arm and leg went numb. He is just now starting to get feeling and mobility back into his arm and leg.
Because of all of that, Fox said, “I’m learning to walk again.”
Fox is rehabilitating at the Knolls of Oxford, and has been there since he left Bethesda North on Dec. 18. He spends his days in physical therapy, needing to regain the strength and stamina he lost after his heart failure, as well as reading, writing and researching.
“I think by the time I leave here I’ll be the country’s foremost expert on the Kennedy assassination,” a topic he’s been fascinated with since he was a kid.
Why did Fox nearly die?
Fox said he was less than 170 pounds when he was in his early 40s — 15 years into his nearly 23-year statehouse career — and was running up to three miles a day. Then he stopped running and had “a Baskin Robbins breakdown” and a “pizza breakdown.”
As a county commissioner, a seat he held from October 1997 to April 2007, Fox said his weight fluctuated between 250 and 260 pounds, and when the FBI investigated him for his role in Butler County entering into fiber optics, he gained 130 pounds.
Food was how he relieved stress.
“When the FBI came calling, I went into a total crash,” Fox said. “I became a total hermit, and eating was my comfort.”
Fox became known for his weight and appetite, and when asked about what led to his Dec. 2 hospitalization, he said, “I almost ate myself to death.”
“You think you’re bulletproof until something like this happens,” he said. “Basically, my body was shutting down. It was by the grace of God, that’s the only way to explain it. God gave me my life back.”
Now he has a “simple” choice: “I either lose this weight, or I lose my life.”
Fox will forever be known for his four-year prison sentence, which ended in December 2015. He pleaded guilty in March 2011 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and filing a false tax return, both felony counts, in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.
In exchange for the plea, the federal government agreed to a four-year sentence instead of two decades. None of the public corruption charges alleged in the indictment, which included bribes and kickbacks, were a part of the plea agreement.
But Fox said he wants to be known for more than a prison term.
He has been reflecting on his life and career, which included nearly 25 years in the Ohio legislature — making him the longest-serving legislator from Butler County — a decade on the Butler County Commission and a brief stint as the Butler County Children Services director.
Fox was a controversial figure when he was in politics, but that’s because “I took on tough issues most people wanted to avoid. They were controversial because they involved risk,” he said.
During his time in the legislature, Fox helped to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding for Butler County projects, including the Job Development Center for Hamilton High School, Butler County Regional Highway (initially called the Michael A. Fox Highway), Butler County Transportation Improvement District, and Union Center Boulevard interchange.
In his last year in the Ohio House, he said it was his amendments to Senate Bill 55 in the 122nd General Assembly that established charter schools in eight of Ohio’s urban school districts.
“The amendment creates an opportunity to provide competition to traditional inner-city schools by giving urban district parents more educational choices for their children,” Fox said.
He also offered the amendment to that same bill that requires the Ohio Department of Education to make the fourth-, sixth-, ninth- and 12th-grade proficiency tests a public document no later than July 1 in the following the academic year.
“This public disclosure requirement constitutes the first time parents, educators, businesses and community leaders will have an opportunity to review the academic standards that are embodied in Ohio’s proficiency tests,” Fox said.