‘Terry Did Not Care To Be Called A Hero’

Terry Fox on the road for his Marathon Of Hope

By Bill Vigars

Bill Vigars

The end was really the beginning. It truly was. 

Terry, holding back tears, lying on the stretcher, surrounded by media as he announced he had to end his run as the cancer had returned. That image, that moment in time, became embedded in the Canadian psyche.

After 143 days on the road and running 3,338 miles (5,373 km) Terry broke the news he had to return home. I was there. 

After spending three and a half months on the road with him I was now trying to find a way to get Terry home the fastest way possible. Looking back, I now know I was operating in a state of shock. “It wasn’t supposed to end this way,” I kept telling myself over and over and over.

The hours became a blur as we worked to get the Foxes a flight back to B.C. before Terry’s lungs could fill with fluid and he would be unable to fly. The ambulance ride to the airport still plays out in memory like it was yesterday.

 I recall Rolly saying to Terry: “This is so unfair. This is so unfair.” And Terry answering gently: “No, Dad. It’s not. I’m no different than anybody else. People get cancer. Cancer comes back….. Maybe now, people will understand why I did this.”

Terry Fox, Bill Vigars, photographed near French River, by Gail Harvey.

Terry had become concerned that the hoopla around the run had become too much about him, about Terry Fox the hero. He never thought of himself as that, not ever. Terry didn’t want that; he wasn’t like that. But he knew that because of his situation, the public would follow him as he went through treatment. The chemotherapy. The radiation. The fight.  

At the airport I hugged him as he lay in the plane. Holding back tears and with a broken heart I said, “I’ll see you soon.”

As the plane began to roll down the runway I was called back inside the terminal and handed a phone. It was CBC’s “As it Happens”. Through tears I remember saying, “This is not the end of the run; this is just the beginning.”

That same day — Sept. 2, 1980 — Isadore Sharp, chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, told the Fox family he was committed to organizing a fund-raising run that would be held every year in Terry’s name. It’s still going strong.

Today, 41 years later Terry’s legacy is everywhere. The massive advances in cancer treatments because of the millions raised in his name have saved countless lives. And thanks to our teachers and the education system, Terry’s example of selflessness, determination and never-give up attitude have inspired our youth, shaped their future.

Terry was an average, everyday kid who demonstrated the power of one. He set an example for all of us: one person can make a difference. I still speak about Terry at schools, which I enjoy because it gives me the honor of making him real to today’s generation. I like to say: “He did not care to be called a hero. He’s just like you, each and everyone of you. But he decided to dare to do something.”

So, September 1, 1980 was not the end of Terry’s Marathon of Hope, it was the beginning of the fight. Now we can say with confidence: “One day cancer will be beaten!”

Terry gave us that hope.

(Written for the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper, the column appears here with permission of the author. In 1980 Mr. Vigars was Director of Public Relations and Fundraising for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario Division. He was Terry Fox’s public relations organizer, his close friend and confidant spending many weeks on the road with Terry. Mr. Vigars is a former Welland resident who was manager of The Chamber of Commerce. He is scheduled to do a video link presentation about Terry Fox for students at Notre Dame College School this week. The annual Terry Fox Run will be a virtual event this year on Sunday, September 19.)

1 thought on “‘Terry Did Not Care To Be Called A Hero’

  1. Jeffrey Lemon

    Bill Vigars was a former Welland resident! Each time I read about Terry Fox I feel like I learn something new. Thanks for posting! Yes he was and still is our Greatest Canadian Hero, In my opinion. I will always be in awe of him. Jeff


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