Editor’s Note: After Mason alumna Christine H. Fox was appointed acting deputy secretary of defense this week, we noticed some media sources were pulling from the 2005 profile of her published in the Mason Spirit. We thought we would pull the profile out and dust if off so everyone could enjoy it. As you will see, she has a remarkable story.
As a mathematician who uses her skills to solve national security and defense problems, Christine H. Fox, BS Mathematics ’76 and MS Applied Mathematics ’80, is accustomed to being one of the few women in her field. Fox says she does not consider her career path unusual.
“My father was a nuclear engineer in the Navy,” she says. “From a very early age, I was encouraged to consider math as an option. My father always said, ‘If you can do math, you can do anything.’ Math was never presented as something scary or too challenging. It was presented not only as a fundamental tool, but as something great.”
Indeed, math has been great for Fox. She has leveraged her mathematical skills and other talents into a rewarding career at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a federally funded research and development center. Fox started at CNA as an analyst and steadily worked her way up to becoming president in 2004. During her 24-year career, she has traveled around the world, working directly with Navy, Marine Corps, and joint military forces to help them find the best ways to use new weapons and technology and become more effective and efficient. Fox also served on the independent task force studying the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
Fox was even the inspiration for a character in a movie starring Tom Cruise. In the mid 1980s, Fox was CNA’s field representative at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, Calif., working on site with the F-14 fighter pilots at the elite flying school located on the base. Film producer Jerry Bruckheimer was making Top Gun, an action adventure featuring cool flying sequences as the pilots competed to be the best of the best. Cruise played hot-shot pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and because no Hollywood movie is complete without a little romance, Kelly McGillis was hired to play the love interest.
The original script called for McGillis’s character to be a Navy officer. “The admiral assigned by the Navy to oversee the production had script approval,” Fox recalls, adding that of course, the officer–officer romance was a no-go. “Then [Bruckheimer] suggested that the character could be an aerobics teacher at the Officer’s Club,” Fox says. “[The admiral] replied, ‘How about [modeling the character after] my CNA rep?’”
Fox was called into the admiral’s office to meet Bruckheimer, and McGillis’s character became Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, civilian instructor and Maverick’s girlfriend. Fox worked with McGillis so that she could make her role more realistic.
“I later read a review panning ‘Top Gun,’ as being completely unrealistic that a civilian woman would work in such a macho environment,” Fox says, laughing. “I thought about writing that reviewer a letter to set him straight.”
As she has risen through the ranks of CNA, Fox has understandably moved away from the hands-on analysis work that she finds so exciting and rewarding, and more toward the administrative aspects that she admits can become tedious. But she has found new challenges in her role as a mentor to analysts just beginning their careers with CNA.
While she’s not working, Fox enjoys spending time with her husband, a physicist, sailing and attending musical and theatrical performances. Fox has returned to Mason several times since graduating and says the university continues to impress her.
“The campus is so much larger,” she says. “But at the same time, I still have that same feeling that I did when I was a student, that of a close-knit, accommodating, welcoming environment.”