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He is standing disconsolately in one of his outer offices, this proper and burdened man who, it is rumored, was born wearing a necktie. The late afternoon fall sun highlights the glories of his 500-acre farm just outside the Philadelphia city limits; four years ago Philadelphia magazine said the flowers alone were worth $1 million. But he pays no attention. For Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr., 55, is brooding. He stands among other reminders of how rich he is (net worth: $150 to $200 million, in the estimate of Dixonologists), including models of airplanes he owns or has owned, a small replica of one of his yachts, an autographed basketball and, perhaps most significant, a tiny nickel slot machine.
All around are plaques extolling Dixon's virtues—Man of the Year, Splendid Achievement and myriad other boy-are-you-super sentiments engraved in brass and cast in bronze. So much demands his attention. There are his other homes, in Maine and Florida, his 81-foot yacht, his horses (thoroughbred, show jumping, dressage), his cars, his cattle, his sheep, his charities (this year, he and two other trustees have started dispensing $22 million from the estate of his uncle. George D. Widener, and Dixon says it's a problem because the trust "grows at more than $1 million a year"), his involvements with educational institutions, his civic responsibilities, his sporting investments (he was in the Intrepid syndicate when it defended the America's Cup in 1970 and he owned a share in Secretariat when the Triple Crown winner was sent to stud.)
Dixon's most public trinket, however, is the Philadelphia 76ers. It is a team that for the third year in a row is said to be the best in the NBA, although it turned out not to be the best in the playoffs of 1977 and 1978. "Sometimes," says Dixon at the end of this very trying day, "I wish I didn't have all this bleeping money."
Ah, yes, the bleeping money.
Nothing irks him more than constant reference to it. He wants to be loved for himself, not for his checkbook, yet they seem inseparable. All conversational paths lead to Dixon's dollars, which makes him explode, "There you go, talking about the bleeping money again. Let's talk about something else." Only grudgingly does he admit that there is a chance people might be nice to him and say yes, sir, to his every statement because of his wealth. But late one day when there were no more phone calls, no more interruptions, no more meetings, he said, "When you have as much money as I do, you are viewed from a different perspective. I know that. I just hope that when they put me in the sod, a few people will shed a few tears and somebody will say, 'Yes, sir, that Fitz Dixon, he was a pretty good boy.' "
Indeed, Fitz is a pretty good boy—impatient at times, irritable (his wife curbs his appetite for martinis because she says they make him that way), compulsive, quick to blow up. But generous. Lord, is he generous. Yet he is almost a prisoner of his fortune, which he inherited from his mother, Eleanor Widener Dixon. It was Great-Grandpa Peter A. B. Widener who founded the fortune with dealings in public transportation, Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, the then fledgling tobacco industry and the first lead acid battery. But Fitz Dixon, to whom so much has come, seems somehow cursed by the cash. "Money," he snaps on the way to one of his garages that reveals two Mercedes and a Bentley T2, "does not ensure happiness. Or success."
Nowhere is that more evident than in his 95% ownership of the Philadelphia 76ers. It is his toy. But it always seems broken, and he complains that it is taking a lot more time than he thought it would, often as much as one hour a day. He finds it difficult to explain why he bought the club for $6.2 million in May 1976, from paper executive Irv Kosloff. Kosloff and his son recently repurchased 5% with the option of acquiring up to 25%, which Kosloff says they will do. Says Dixon, "I just always wanted to own a pro team in Philadelphia." He has often been on the fringes, and Bill Campbell, a Sixers broadcaster, says, "He chafes when he's not in control."
In the '40s, Dixon was involved with the Phillies. He owned 1,000 shares, which he bought for $10 each and eventually sold for $50 and $100 apiece. In the '50s, he owned two shares of the Eagles, purchased for $3,000 and sold shortly thereafter for $65,000 each; Dixon laments that he should have bought the whole club then for $5.5 million. Years later, he stopped bidding on the Eagles at $14.5 million; that time the club went for $16.1 million. Why did he desist? "Sixteen million was too much," he says. He recently owned 25% of the Flyers, which he purchased for $1.2 million and sold for $2.2 million—after he failed to buy out his partners. He did own Philadelphia's pro lacrosse team, but the league bellied up and Fitz lost $1 million. "I guess I bought the basketball team because I hate soccer and this was all that was left," he says. "Frankly, my background in it is zilch."
Dixon: Who is Julius Erving?