Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadian icon's mom a hero to many

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Friends and family of Betty Fox, the mother of Canadian icon Terry Fox, say they will remember her as a caring, spirited woman who kept alive her son's crusade to cure cancer.

"Betty was full of beans and a force of nature," said renowned author and artist Douglas Coupland, a friend of the Fox family for the past seven years. "She was always true to herself."

Her family announced the death of the British Columbia resident on the Terry Fox Foundation website Friday morning, saying she had died peacefully and surrounded by loved ones after a serious illness.

"It is with considerable sadness that we share that our wife, mother and grandmother died at 8:25 a.m. (PT) this morning," said the statement, signed by her husband, Rolly, daughter, Judi, and son, Darrell.

"Betty was comfortable the last few weeks and months of her life, was always full of wit and rarely alone. Betty is now with Terry and joins other dear family members that predeceased her."

Terry Fox became known around the world for running more than 5,000 kilometres in an attempt to cross the country after losing a leg to cancer.

Diagnosed when he was 18, Fox set out two years later to raise money for cancer research, leaving St. John's in April 1980, and running 42 kilometres a day until he was forced to stop near Thunder Bay, Ont., when cancer appeared in his lungs.

He died on June 28, 1981, at age 22.

Even a year after Terry's death, Coupland said, the Fox family was still too stunned to know what to do -- or what the Marathon of Hope could become.

"It was Betty -- and I don't know the moment -- (who) realized, 'Oh dear, this is my duty in life, this is my role,' " Coupland said. "Betty became, also in the process, Canada's mom."

Fox and other family members worked to keep organizing annual marathons, while the Terry Fox Foundation, officially registered in 1988, went on to raise more than $550 million for cancer research.

Coupland's 2005 book, Terry, retells the young man's journey to mark the Marathon of Hope's 25th anniversary.

On Friday, Coupland recalled the last time he saw Betty Fox -- in Vancouver, at the unveiling of his design for a new art installation to honour her son.

"I got this wonderful clip, I think I might put it on YouTube, of her sticking her tongue out at me," Coupland said, who had been recording parts of the event on camera.

"She has this incredible fun side to her. She was always up for a laugh."

The family revealed earlier this month that Fox, who was in her early 70s, was seriously ill, after a media report surfaced stating she had cancer. While the family has said she was seriously ill, they have denied the cancer report.

They declined to release any other details, but Coupland said she was suffering from complications from diabetes and arthritis.

Condolences and further messages of support poured onto the foundation's website soon after her death was made public.

Fellow B.C. activist Rick Hansen, a gold-medal-winning Paralympian who famously wheeled around the world to raise millions for spinal-cord injury research, called Fox a "remarkable woman."

"Her enthusiasm and compassion were infectious, and her tireless dedication to pursuing Terry's dream inspired millions to believe in a world without cancer," Hansen said in a statement on his foundation's website.

"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."

Canadian Cancer Society president Peter Goodhand said volunteers and staff across the country would remember her fondly.

"She was a relentless champion for Terry's dream and she steadfastly pursued Terry's goal of finding a cure for cancer," Goodhand said in a statement.

"She was an inspiration to all of us and she will be greatly missed."

Fox was one of the Canadians chosen to carry the Olympic flag into B.C. Place Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

She and husband, Rolly, also joined in to light the flame that opened the Paralympic Games.


-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2011 A21

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