Stafford Fox Senior Research Fellowship funds research into stroke-induced dementia

15 Dec 2015

Established in 2014, The Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation Senior Research Fellowship is a prestigious $2.5 million philanthropically funded international fellowship at the Queensland Brain Institute to fight stroke-induced dementia, also known as vascular dementia.

“The Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation was established in 2013 following the death of Moyna Fox, and named in honour of her late husband James Stafford, a former BP Australia chief executive,” Paul Brotchie, Foundation Trustee, said.

Stafford and Moyna Fox started one of Australia’s wealthiest medical research foundations after many years of careful planning, resulting in a fund worth more than $100 million. It was only publicly revealed in Moyna’s will when she died in 2013.

James Stafford Fox was a private person — tall, physically imposing but without a particularly dominant personality. He rose from a position as a junior clerk at the Port Melbourne depot of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries in 1932 to become the first Australian chief executive of BP Australia Ltd in 1971.

During World War II, he met 19-year-old Moyna, who was working as a presenter at Radio 2AY in Albury. It wasn’t long before they were married and he went to New Guinea where, in 1944, he was mentioned in despatches for bravery. In New Guinea, he contracted malaria and spent many months recuperating in Melbourne, but his military service triggered qualities of leadership and marked the beginning of a steady rise in the business world, and of careful investment in the future.

The couple invested some of their money in six houses in the wealthy Melbourne suburb of Toorak, four of which they built from scratch. All six were recently sold as a single lot, and contributed many millions to the corpus of the foundation.

Stafford spent three years at the helm of BP Australia, and retired in 1974 at age 60, remaining on several boards until 1985. By 1990, he was in poor health and living with dementia. He died in 1994. By then, he had already charted the course that would lead to the foundation's establishment.

Moyna lived on for more than 18 years, knowing what would happen after her death, but never revealing it publicly. Eventually, she too succumbed to dementia and died in 2013.

The couple, who were so careful with their money and who clearly had no desire for fame and prominence during their lifetime, will now forever be remembered for their generosity in setting up the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation.

“The foundation is delighted to fund this project at QBI because it not only exemplifies our funding criteria but it is also good to see fine research putting Queensland and Australia at the forefront of world medical research,” Mr Botchie said.

In September, QBI's Dr Steven Zuryn was appointed as the Stafford Fox Senior Research Fellow. Dr Zuryn's research looks at the fundamental processes that individual neurons use to protect themselves from being injured when a person has dementia or a stroke. He said his team was working on enhancing these natural mechanisms so that the neurons were protected before damage was done.

"Our ultimate goal is to prolong neuronal function in the face of disease so that normal life can continue unaffected," he said.