"A rolling stone gathers no moss."
When Ann Doolan-Fox's father quoted that proverb to her some 30 years ago, he meant it in the cautionary Irish sense: Keep moving and you'll never plant roots, never mature or flourish.
At the time, Doolan-Fox was in her early 20s and busy living out the axiom's more proactive American interpretation: Keep moving and you'll never stagnate.
She might not have acknowledged the full arc of her plan out loud, before or after leaving the family home in Dublin to travel the Western world, live in seven countries and master four languages, but her wanderlust always had a destination.
"The end game was always America," Doolan-Fox said. "I knew I wanted to one day live in America. I knew that's where I wanted to be no matter how long it took to get there."
Today, 24 years after marrying an Air Force captain and subsequently earning her citizenship, Doolan-Fox understands better than most the forces that compel people from around the world to yearn for U.S. shores.
"The ability to become something in this country surpasses any other country in the world," she said. "It's the land of dreams and second chances. Literally every day in this country stuff gets invented. Here it's like, you dream it, you perceive it, you achieve it."
The youngest of four, Doolan-Fox was born in 1962 and grew up on a formative diet of Irish patriotism and American television, including "The Brady Bunch" and "The Partridge Family."
"We weren't dirt poor, but we had very meager beginnings. My father was very passionate about being Irish; he didn't like the English being in our country," she said.
Though jobs at the time were scarce, after finishing high school she found work at a chain of grocery stores, where a more worldly-wise co-worker offered the advice that set her rolling.
"She said to me, 'Don't get to be 75 and look back on your life and say woulda, coulda, shoulda,' and I was so aware of her words," said Doolan-Fox, who made the decision then to follow the example set by her older sister and brother and leave Ireland for London.
The move had earned her siblings the stern disapproval of their father, who cast a dim view on his own youth in England, so the youngest member of the Doolan clan had to keep her plans - and make her exit - on the down-low. With her mother's help, she packed her bags and crept out in the predawn hours as her father slept, waiting in front of the emerald green door and the neatly trimmed hedges to meet the taxi that would take her to the airport and a new life.
Over the following 12 years, Doolan-Fox lived and worked in the world's great cities - including London, Paris, Madrid and, briefly, New York City, where a two-month stint as a live-in nanny when she was 22 didn't play out the way she'd hoped.
"I went on a one-way ticket and $50 in my pocket and starlight in my eyes. People would probably say I'm a nut-case," Doolan-Fox said.
Promising herself she'd someday make it back, she returned to England, relocating to work for a time in Spain before taking a job at the European Patent Office in The Hague, Netherlands.
It was there that she met U.S. Air Force Capt. Jimmie Fox Jr.
On the surface, their backgrounds could not have seemed more different. Fox grew up on a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta during the segregation era, and despite having to work the fields every day, he graduated at the top of his high school class in 1970 - an honor he shared with the valedictorian at the nearby white school.
Fox enlisted in 1973 and, after graduating from the Aircraft Weapons School at Lowry Air Force Base, on his second assignment was stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, where he served during Operation Frequent Wind, the final phase of U.S. evacuations before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Fox's service would earn him the Vietnam Service Medal almost four decades later.
Though he'd never considered a military career, after returning from the war Fox followed the advice of officers and enrolled in ROTC at the University of New Mexico, earning his commission in 1983 before heading to postings overseas. He was stationed in Germany in March 1993, when he took a trip to Holland for a blind date that would change the course of his life.
It took little time for the talkative and peripatetic Dublin lass and the gentlemanly Air Force officer to recognize that they were kindred spirits.
"I think that what connected us is that we both had harsh beginnings. Jimmie's father wasn't so different than mine - an alcoholic, a gambler," Doolan-Fox said. "We both had similar backgrounds and decided we wanted something better in life."
Among the many things on which they wholeheartedly agreed then - and now - is this: America is a land of opportunity and dreams-made-real.
"You probably heard of the guy in Albuquerque who started a tech company in his garage, became a billionaire and didn't have a college degree," said Fox, who recalls as a child shopping at Stein Mart, a still-thriving clothing chain founded by a Russian-Jewish immigrant. "Here, you can be who you want to be."
The second time Doolan-Fox moved to America, with her soon-to-be husband in the fall of 1993, was for good.
The couple lived for two years in Los Angeles and then, about a year before retiring from service, Fox suggested they check out Colorado Springs, an area with which he'd grown familiar during his first duty station posting after ROTC at the Air Force Academy.
He'd liked the region then but never imagined the Springs would be the place where he'd return to plant roots with an Irish bride, have a son and work a "dream job" at The Broadmoor.
That day in 1994, on their first drive along the Front Range, his wife wasn't convinced it was the destination fate had in mind.
Once she slowed enough for moss to grow, though, Doolan-Fox came 'round.
"There isn't anywhere else I want to live," she said. "This is home."
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364