PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr., a Maine-born former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers who also served in a variety of civic leadership positions, died Wednesday of a form of skin cancer. He was 82.

Dixon died at Abington Memorial Hospital, according to Helweg Funeral Service of Jenkintown, which is handling arrangements.

Dixon is perhaps best know for bringing Julius Erving to town in 1976 by paying the basketball star about $6.6 million – only a few months after buying the team for $8 million. Under his ownership, the Sixers got to the NBA finals twice, but won no championship. He sold the team in 1980 after a decline in attendance and financial losses.

Dixon was born at his famly’s summer estate in the exclusive Grindstone Neck section of Winter Harbor, Maine. He maintained a lifelong connection to the coastal town and was active in philanthropic causes in the area.

He was instrumental in the founding of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth 50 years ago, according to Doug Jones, its president and CEO.

“Fitz actually covered our payroll in the first couple of years to make ends meet,” Jones said.

In addition to his millions of dollars in donations to the hospital, Dixon funded the renovation of 80 former military housing units acquired by the town when the Navy vacated its base at Schoodic Point in 2002.

In 2005, he bought Le Domaine, a popular French restaurant and inn in Hancock, allowing former owner and proprietor Nicole Purslow to stay on as principal chef.

Despite his enormous wealth, Dixon seemed to fit easily into the fabric of life in Winter Harbor.

“He used to drive his own car through town,” Town Manager Roger Barto said. “He never put on airs; he always stopped and talked with people. He was very much at ease here.”

One of Dixon’s most visible contributions to Philadelphia is the Robert Indiana sculpture “LOVE,” which stands in John F. Kennedy Plaza, popularly known as Love Park.

Indiana had loaned the sculpture to the city for its bicentennial celebration, but the artist later took back the work because the city said it could not afford the $45,000 asking price. The iconic sculpture had become a beloved part of the cityscape, so Dixon offered Indiana $35,000 to return it, and the artist accepted.

Dixon served on the boards of many universities, including being the founding chairman of the State System of Higher Education’s board of governors. The system was founded in 1982, bringing together a variety of former teachers’ colleges and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“Mr. Dixon helped give life to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education,” State System Chancellor Judy G. Hample said. “As the founding chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr. Dixon directed the creation and development of the State System from its very beginning.”

Although he did not have to earn a living, he taught English and French at his alma mater, Episcopal Academy, where he also coached several sports teams and served as athletic director.

“I’m fortunate enough that I don’t have to go out there and earn a paycheck,” Dixon said in 1976. “But I couldn’t sit home and do nothing. … I’d be a martini drunkard at the end of six months.”

Burial will be private, the funeral home said. A memorial service is planned for Sept. 29 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.


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