Tailor, teacher, tour guide, townie – Missy Julian-Fox has endless roles for the hill that has her heart forever
By Emily Padula | Photo by John Michael Simpson
Just a few blocks from The Carolina Inn, Missy Julian-Fox sits on her front porch each week with friends to do what she loves most: share stories. Affectionately dubbed her “healing porch,” the setting serves as a gathering place for Chapel Hill natives-turned-friends to meet up and exchange experiences growing up here.
During her own childhood, Missy would visit Julian’s, the clothing store her father, Maurice Julian, opened in 1942, which is now celebrating its 80th year in business on Franklin Street.
After graduating from UNC, Missy earned a master’s degree in education at Boston University. Eventually, she was called home to do what she loves: provide access through storytelling.
Missy spent years as a reading teacher at Seawell Elementary School before having her daughter, Betsy Fox. When her father died in 1993, Missy took the reins to run Julian’s alongside her husband, Michael Fox. In 2007, she passed the reins to brother (and Carolina argyle designer), Alexander Julian. Today, Missy’s son, Bart Fox, manages the menswear side of the business.
Her family story is etched on every UNC basketball uniform and stands proud as one of Franklin Street’s most historical fixtures. Now, she is set on sharing the untold stories within her beloved town.
“I feel like I’ve always been in love with this town and tried to be a cheerleader for how unique and special and wonderful it really is,” Missy says.
After serving as director of the UNC Visitors Center for a decade, Missy founded Heart of the Hill Tours. Outings are crafted by experts in their respective fields, including tours on trees, architecture and even an all-encompassing tour of downtown and campus aptly called Chapel Hill 101. Missy’s own walking tour, Parallel Lives, with friend Chris Faison, explores both a white and Black perspective throughout the town and university’s history.
“So much history was missing from the stories I knew and grew up with. Isn’t that true for many of us?” she says. “When I learn a more complete story, I understand and connect so much more – we need to share these stories.”
Missy recalls wanting to be a writer her whole life. When inspired by the urge to create visual stories for children, and eventually her granddaughter, Marilyn, 5, she found out how easily her heart “exploded on the page.”
Since then, Missy has written three children’s books featuring illustrations by textile artist Elaine O’Neil. She says “Goodnight Carolina” serves as a “love letter” to her hometown, while “Road Trip Carolina” takes the reader on a journey across the state. Missy’s latest release, “Violet Stands Tall,” features a purple bunny who mirrors her experience operating the store.
When not writing or leading tours, Missy is a regular at Sutton’s Drug Store, which she lovingly calls her “board room.” She also serves on the board of Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit that provides educational opportunities for the descendants of Chapel Hill’s enslaved population founded by Missy’s friend and fellow “healing porch” regular Danita Mason-Hogans.
A cancer survivor of more than 30 years, Missy remembers walking home from UNC Hospitals following a sudden diagnosis and making the choice to plan for the years to come.
“As I was coming down that hill, like it was yesterday, I decided, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to get rocking chairs for that front porch because I intend to be rocking in those chairs when I am 80 years old and I will look back and say, ‘Well, that was a tiny, little window in your life,’” Missy says.
And now every week, she rocks in those very chairs with Danita and their friend, Sandra Conway, learning and telling stories about the town that will have her heart forever.
“When all is said and done … what I hope is said is, ‘That was a woman who loved her town and saw the extraordinary power and possibility within each of us,’” Missy says.