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Chilliwack mourns Betty Fox

Eight flagbearers, including Betty Fox (in front at left) carry the Olympic flag into BC Place during the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Games.  - JENNA HAUCK/PROGRESS FILE
Eight flagbearers, including Betty Fox (in front at left) carry the Olympic flag into BC Place during the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Games.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/PROGRESS FILE

To many she was a hero, but to herself, she was just an "ordinary" woman fulfilling her son's last wish.

Canadian icon and cancer crusader Betty Fox, mother of the late Terry Fox, passed away Friday morning.

"It is with considerable sadness that we share that our wife, mother and grandmother died at 8:25 a.m. [Friday] morning," the Fox family wrote in a statement released on the Terry Fox Foundation website.

The family did not disclose details of her illness.

News that Betty was ill first came out two weeks ago when media reports speculated she had cancer and was living in Chilliwack Hospice. In a statement at the time, the family said reports of cancer were incorrect, but did confirm she was seriously ill.

Her death is a huge loss, said Margaret Kostrzewa, a member of the Chilliwack Terry Fox Run Committee.

"What other person can you honestly say has touched the world the way she has?" said Kostrzewa, who had to choke back tears. "She will always be in our hearts ... we will miss her dearly."

The course of Betty's life changed dramatically when, in 1977, Terry's leg was amputated due to osteogenic sarcoma.

She supported Terry through his Marathon of Hope, following every step of the 143-day run.

And after his death in 1981, Betty took on her son's mission with just as much determination.

For more than 30 years Betty was the fireball behind the Terry Fox Run and later the Terry Fox Foundation. She quit her job, traveled the world, listened to stories, shed tears, shaved her head, spoke to more than 400,000 school children alone  – all in the name of her son.

"I knew what Terry started was important," Betty told The Progress last September for the 30th anniversary of the Terry Fox Run. "I don't want anyone to think this has changed my life. What I have done has been for my son and because I have believed in his cause."

Former Chilliwack mayor Clint Hames, who raised the Terry Fox flag at City Hall nine times with the Fox family at his side, couldn't imagine carrying on the way Betty and husband Rolly had after losing their child.

"Not only did they carry on, they picked up the challenge he laid down and were at the forefront of a movement which endures stronger today than yesterday," Hames said. "I had the greatest admiration for Betty and [husband] Rolly ... and know that an entire country joins in saying thank you to the family for sharing Terry and Betty with the world."

To date, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $550 million dollars for cancer research, with 90 per cent of all donations going directly into cancer research and supports.

The accomplishments of Betty and the foundation are incredible, said city Coun. Chuck Stam, whose teenaged son is a cancer survivor.

"She denied the commercialization of Terry's name ... and yet, [the foundation] still got national recognition," said Stam.

"She was an admirable, courageous woman, one of our folk heroes. This is a big loss not only locally, but internationally. We are all feeling it."

Paralympian Rick Hansen, whose Man in Motion Tour was inspired by Terry's Marathon of Hope, released a statement Friday.

"It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the loss of my dear friend, Betty Fox," he said. "Betty was a remarkable woman, who will be sorely missed. Her enthusiasm and compassion were infectious, and her tireless dedication to pursuing Terry's dream inspired millions to believe in a world without cancer. Betty was a devoted community leader whose accomplishments and impact are a true testament to the power of one individual, and the influence they can have on the lives of others."

Betty's celebrity status was made most evident last year when she was selected to carry the Olympic flag for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics along with other famed Canadians that included Donald Sutherland, Anne Murray, Bobby Orr, Jacques Villeneuve, Romeo Dallaire and Barbara Ann Scott.

A Facebook page leading up to the Olympics, which had more than 129,000 members, had wanted Betty to light the Olympic flame.

"I am very honoured that so many people in Canada still believe in Terry 30 years later," she told The Progress following the opening ceremonies. "Just being there, being a part of the Olympics, was for me, all about Terry. I was there in place of Terry."

Betty and Rolly have three other children: Fred, Darrell and Judith and nine grandchildren.

kbartel@theprogress.com

~ with files from Tri-City News

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