Nearly thirty years to the day since a community and a country came together to grieve the death of Terry Fox, mourners gathered at the same Port Coquitlam church on Saturday to say goodbye to his mom, Betty.
Bettty died in Chilliwack on June 17 after suffering with diabetes and arthritis. She was 73.
The Fox family and fellow mourners filed into the 300-seat Trinity United Church in the pouring rain behind the blue quilt-draped casket bearing their mother, grandmother, wife and friend.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark told reporters outside the church that she had cut short her travels between Toronto, Ottawa and Yellowknife to be at the funeral Saturday.
“The importance of giving back to community, the importance of being a good citizen and doing good for the people around you that you love and making the world a little bit better when you leave than when you started, Betty was a living example of that,” Premier Clark said. “In a country and a world where we need good citizens, Betty set the best example.”
Across town, about 100 mourners gathered at the Port Coquitlam recreation centre to remember Fox and watch a live broadcast of the funeral service.
Two books of condolences sat at a table inside the rec centre: one with messages from mourners at the centre that day, the other containing emails of condolence from as far away as England and Abu Dhabi.
“You’ve done so much for our family. Thank you,” wrote one woman.
Mourners began arriving at the recreation centre as early as noon to get a seat for the 1 p.m. ceremony, one couple saying they had been turned away from the church because it was full, others saying they came directly to the recreation centre to avoid the crowds and respect the Fox family’s privacy at the Prairie Avenue church.
Mourners at both memorial sites were met with white-gloved Port Coquitlam firefighters whom the city had called upon to attend the ceremonies.
Inside the small church, Rev. Brian Burke described Fox as “a wonderful woman, a courageous leader of this community.”
Before him sat sat the Fox family, Premier Clark, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix, health critic and Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth, Vancouver Olympic Games CEO John Furlong, Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart and family friend Rick Hansen, whose 1985 Man in Motion tour to raise money for spinal cord injury research was inspired by his friend Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope five years earlier.
“Being at the annual Terry Fox runs in Port Coquitlam and just seeing her as the loving beautiful mother who would not let that dream die and inspiring all of us to continue is something that will always be with me at every moment,” Hansen told reporters after the ceremony. “She’s been an amazing leader in our country and in our world… and she’ll be greatly missed by all of us.”
Betty, who raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research in the three decades since her son’s death from the disease, was remembered by family inside the church less as a national hero and more as a mom and grandmother.
Kirsten Fox, one of nine grandchildren who each took a turn standing before the congregation to read one of the thousands of letters of support received by the family since Betty’s death, tearfully remembered her grandmother as a funny, loving and humble woman.
“It’s hard to separate Betty Fox from the identity of Terry Fox’s mother, but we grandkids never thought of her that way,” she said, adding that she asked the other grandkids about how they remembered their grandmother. “None of use said, ‘She raised a hero.’ We think of her as grandma.”
It was the revelation of that human side of Betty that both Mayor Stewart and John Furlong said they found most touching about the ceremony.
“I hate going to funerals and finding out stuff I wish I’d known before,” Mayor Stewart said, adding that “her humanity” was what he would remember most about the service.
John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympics at which Betty had been a torchbearer for the opening ceremonies, echoed that feeling, calling the ceremony simple, beautiful and easy tribute.
“We lost a great Canadian,” he said, adding, “I doubt there is a human on this planet who has done as much for the cause of beating cancer as this woman.”
Shortly before 3 p.m., Betty’s casket was carried back out of the church into the rain, followed by husband Rolly, son Darrell, and placed in a black hearse adorned with two Canadian flags.
Betty Fox will be interred at the Port Coquitlam cemetery, near her son Terry.