Bob Phillips said his good friend Frank Dixon would joke that the song “My Way” was written for him, and not that other Frank, known as Ol’ Blue Eyes.
More seriously, “if I was with him 15 minutes, I always learned something,” said Phillips, chairman of the Francis J. Dixon Foundation, which has donated millions over the years to further health care and education in Lebanon County. “He was that interesting, that deep.”
On Dec. 16, Frank Dixon died at 92.
Phillips, who first met the businessman and philanthropist about 40 years ago, will deliver the eulogy at Dixon’s Mass of Christian Burial, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s Church in Lebanon.
Dixon is survived by his wife of 72 years, Elsie; two daughters, Christine Dixon and JoAnn Dixon White (Dennis); a son, Thomas Dixon (Diane); nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Private interment will be at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery at the convenience of the family.
The humblest of beginnings
A Philadelphia native, Dixon was born a week after the 1929 stock market crash. He told WLBR radio in a 2010 interview, “My father lost everything he had. … My mother became the wage earner as a waitress.”
According to his obituary, Frank served in the Army for two years during the Korean Conflict and then went to work for Proctor & Gamble, becoming a district sales manager based in Wilkes-Barre.
Phillips said Dixon actually dropped out of high school to join the Navy prior to being in the Army, earning honorable discharges from both branches.
The job with Proctor & Gamble introduced Dixon to Lebanon, he told LebTown’s Jeff Falk in an April 2021 article.
Later he was hired as president of the Keystone chain of discount drugstores, which was headquartered here. Under his leadership, the company grew from 23 to 93 outlets, his obituary noted.
When the chain was taken over by Rite Aid Corp., Dixon stayed in Lebanon County and bought a scrapyard, which he renamed Brandywine Recyclers.
In the late 1980s, he established the Francis J. Dixon Foundation “to improve quality of life for Lebanon County citizens through access to education and health care,” the obituary said.
Dixon also was active in real estate development, purchasing bayfront property in Avalon, New Jersey, where he had a summer home.
The proceeds from the 60 houses he built there went to the foundation, giving it a “big shot in the arm,” Phillips told LebTown.
Dixon’s generous support of the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation made him the largest single donor in the long history of WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital.
“But the impact of his support on the health and many lives in Lebanon County is beyond measure,” WellSpan Health said in a statement.
Dixon’s assistance began years ago and increased significantly after he established his foundation.
In 2002, the hospital’s board of trustees approved the largest expansion in the history of the hospital. “A major gift commitment from the Dixon Foundation enabled us to expand the existing emergency department to a state-of-the-art facility that more than doubled our capacity,” WellSpan added. “It occupies most of the entire first floor of the hospital’s expansion of the South Wing and was named the Francis J. Dixon Emergency Center.”
The foundation then provided grant support to help the hospital achieve accreditation as a Certified Stroke Center. An additional gift funded a Stroke Awareness Campaign.
“This was a very special cause for Frank, as he had a brother living in Florida who survived a serious stroke, but suffered with lingering disabilities because he was unable to receive care promptly. Frank wanted to honor the memory of his brother and the Dixon Emergency Center is also home to the Paul F. Dixon Stroke Center,” WellSpan noted.
The Dixon Foundation’s newest pledge, of $2 million, “funded a vision to expand primary and behavioral health care access for vulnerable populations and to provide integrated connections to supportive social services. After a year of planning, this vision is now a reality for more than 1,600 (and growing) Lebanon County residents at the Dixon Health & Wellness Center” in Lebanon city.
“Frank also made a recent and unusual gift … of a large bronze sculpture of an eagle that graced his private office for many years. Frank was very fond of eagles and its new perch is just inside the hospital’s main entrance,” WellSpan said.
The foundation was also instrumental in bringing HACC to downtown Lebanon, and provided tuition assistance to more than 4,000 students. In addition, Dixon supported the relocation of Lebanon City Hall to the former HACC Lebanon building, “which he believed would be key to the revitalization of the city center,” the obituary noted.
Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello wrote in an email that Dixon “played a significant role in pulling the HACC/City Hall project together.” His foundation donated $200,000 to the city toward a down payment, $400,000 for HACC’s leasehold improvements and released $500,000 from the foundation’s restricted funds to be used at HACC’s discretion for the academic benefit of HACC Lebanon students.
Last June, a groundbreaking ceremony was held privately due to COVID and Dixon’s health, Capello continued. Lebanon recognized him by naming the City Council Chambers/Multi-Purpose Room after him and bestowing on Dixon the “greatest honor a city can give – the key to the city.”
In an emailed statement to LebTown, HACC President and CEO John J. “Ski” Sygielski said: “Having the support of donors like Mr. Frank Dixon and the Dixon Foundation is a dream for community colleges,” and HACC has benefited from their philanthropy for decades.
“In addition to helping to build HACC’s Lebanon campus, Mr. Dixon provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for HACC students. Also, for 20 years, HACC raised more than $1 million from the annual Frank J. Dixon Golf Tournament.
“… Over the years, Mr. Dixon served on the HACC Foundation Board, advised HACC presidents, mentored HACC students and regaled HACC employees with stories. His generosity and personality were larger than life.”
Phil Tipton, CEO of the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA, said the Dixon Foundation assisted financially with the nonprofit’s Edward and Jeanne Arnold Early Learning Center for preschool-age children. And on an annual basis, the foundation contributed toward scholarships to the Y, he said.
The foundation’s support was “very critical for us,” Tipton told LebTown.
Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz wrote in an email: “Frank was a fair and generous man who settled in and loved Lebanon County. … In addition to his financial giving, Frank showed us how to be civil and work across party lines.
“In plain words, he blessed us more than we deserve. Frank will be remembered for many years to come.”
The importance of giving back
In Jeff Falk’s LebTown story, Dixon talked about watching his mother put a dime in the church poor box every Sunday. She told him, “Son, you get back 10 times what you give in life.”
“I’ve never gotten back 10 times what I’ve given, but 10 times 10 times 10 what I’ve given,” he said. “The reason I give money to charity is that it’s such a good deal.”
“I’ve always believed what my mother said, ‘Give. Be a giver, not a taker,’ ” Dixon added. “It’s much more fun.”
Phillips described Dixon as a “very high energy, high intellect individual.”
For example, if you played golf with Dixon, it was like getting four hours of free golf lessons, he said.
Dixon would outwork and outthink others but possessed the necessary vision, too, his friend said. He could take an unlikely task and make it successful.
His desire to help change society for the better goes back to his upbringing, Phillips said.
The foundation recently amended its aims to focus on health care and education needs in Lebanon County alone, Phillips said.
“It was Frank’s wish to do that,” he said. “In the big picture, we have enough to do in Lebanon County.”
“Philadelphia is my hometown,” Dixon told Falk in the April article. “But Lebanon means everything to me. I’ve been here for 55 years now. When I came to town, I was a hard-working guy who needed a job.
“Lebanon and I have gotten along well together. I love it.”
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An earlier version of this article misidentified Bob Phillips as Bob Summers. We sincerely regret the error.