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