Rolly Fox holds a photo of son

Missing Betty but carrying on

Four months ago, everything was fine. Betty and Rolly Fox had booked a trip to Las Vegas, where they were going to spend some time with friends. They had planned to drive to the border, stay the night at the Comfort Inn in Bellingham and fly out the next morning.

  • Sep. 8, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Four months ago, everything was fine.

Betty and Rolly Fox had booked a trip to Las Vegas, where they were going to spend some time with friends. They had planned to drive to the border, stay the night at the Comfort Inn in Bellingham and fly out the next morning.

But the day they were to leave — a Friday — Betty told her husband to call for help. Rolly Fox dialled 911 and asked for an ambulance. Two arrived.

The paramedics rushed her to emergency, where she stayed for a day or two before being transferred to an upper floor of the hospital.

A week later, Rolly said, Betty was in the hospice, dying of gastrointestinal bleeding. The doctors couldn’t do anything about it, he said.

They shared quiet times. “We didn’t talk much,” he recalled. “She was thinking about everybody, I’m sure. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. She was in a state of shock.

“We all were.”

 

‘There were no signs’

Betty Fox, the most prominent figure in her son, Terry’s, legacy, died on June 17. She was 73.

Betty and Rolly would have marked their 55th wedding anniversary next month.

In his first interview since her funeral, Rolly told Black Press he’s having a tough time coping with his wife’s unexpected death.

“Six months ago, I never thought I’d be in this position today,” he said, chatting at the BC/Yukon foundation office in PoCo an hour after visiting the cemetery where Terry and Betty are buried. “Six months ago, Betty was very healthy, as far as I knew. There were no signs of this coming.”

Rolly met his “best friend” in Winnipeg, Man., where he worked as a conductor for CN Rail. The couple had three boys, Fred, Terry and Darrell, but Betty wanted a girl. Judith arrived in 1964.

Rolly yearned to raise his family in a warmer climate and liked B.C.

After a little negotiation, he started working for the rail company on May 6, 1966, in the Vancouver and Surrey yards. Betty and the kids came out the next month by train, and they lived in rented home in Surrey.

They got word new homes were being built in PoCo, a CP Rail town, and the couple bought 3337 Morrill St. They raised their four children there and had a regular family life, Rolly recalled. But in March 1977, Terry was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma and had his right leg amputated above the knee.

Three years later, the Foxes were thrust in the national spotlight when Terry took on his cross-country Marathon of Hope with the aim of collecting $1 from every Canadian for cancer research.

During the historic journey, the Toronto Star brought Rolly and Betty to Ontario for a surprise visit. The newspaper captured the happy reunion with Terry in Whitby: the photo shows Betty holding tight to her son’s waist and Terry smiling from ear to ear.

Betty loved the picture and displayed it in her home. Rolly used it as the front of her funeral program.

After Terry died of cancer in 1981, Rolly said his boy’s name would pop up now and then: at a memorial bench at Stanley Park, where Terry was to end his Marathon of Hope, and on a Coast Guard icebreaker anchored in the waters off Halifax, where Rolly and Betty had been a few years ago for a stop on a national tour of the Marathon of Hope van.

Rolly calls those encounters “coincidences” but feels Terry’s watching him from above — as is Betty now.

 

‘I won’t say no’

He misses her deeply. “I always thought I’d be going ahead of her,” Rolly said, adding, “I don’t stay in the house very much. Everybody says that will wear off. I’m sure it will but, right now, it’s hard.”

He spends time at the Royal Canadian Legion, where he can talk to another widower who lost his wife two weeks after Betty passed.

Rolly admits he’s putting off things that need to be sorted out. His daughter, two daughters-in-law and six granddaughters want to help with her personal belongings, Rolly said. And he wants to find some items Betty tucked away, especially Terry’s memorabilia: Rolly has never seen Terry’s diary from the Marathon of Hope and he’s unsure of the location of the jug of Atlantic Ocean water Terry collected on the first day of his voyage with Doug Alward on April 12, 1980.

Parting with some of Terry’s keepsakes for a future Terry Fox Museum may be in the cards, he said. “We’re thinking about it. There’s talk about it. That’s all I can say right now.”

In the meantime, Rolly plans to keep busy. On Sept. 18, he’ll be at the Terry Fox Hometown Run in PoCo. “I think she would be happy that I’m here,” he said.

He’ll also be at the unveiling of the author and artist Douglas Coupland’s new Terry Fox memorial at BC Place later this month, and in St. John’s, NL, next April, where officials will show off a new statue of Terry.

The Terry Fox Foundation, the volunteer-driven, family run charity that has collected more than $500 million is also on his mind.

Rolly wonders how he can replace Betty, who was the main face of the organization and spent weeks away from home to talk to schools and groups about Terry’s dream of beating cancer.

Rolly, the quiet gentleman who stood beside her as she spoke to crowds, admits he hasn’t got the gift of the gab and “I don’t see replacing her as a speaker,” he said. “She was very good at what she did. But I won’t back down on anything that I’m asked to do [by the foundation]… If I’m asked to go here or there, I won’t say no to anything.

“Betty used to say that if she didn’t do things right, Terry’s leg would trip her up. Now, I say, ‘If I don’t do things right, there are two people looking down on me.’

“So I’ve got to make sure I do it right.”

By Janis Warren, Black Press

jwarren@tricitynews.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Blue at the Chilliwack SPCA

‘He’s a very laid back, easy-going guy, but still very active,’ says SPCA branch manager

Chilliwack hospice hosts candlelight walk for those who have lost loved ones during pandemic

People invited to ‘celebrate the life of your loved one’ at Illumination Walk

Garage sale happening now at Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association in Chilliwack

Due to COVID-19, the event is one of the association’s only sources of income for the year

UPDATE: Traffic moving again after rollover on Highway 1 in Chilliwack

This is the second collision in four days in the same area of the highway in the ess curves

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

VIDEO: COVID won’t dampen Lower Mainland woman’s Halloween spirit

Langley’s Tanya Reid posted video offering suggestions of how trick-or-treating might look for her

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Father hopes journey to aviation-safety program inspires hope

Former South Surrey resident Greg Sewell hasn’t given up on quest to mandate older-plane retrofits

Most Read