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Betty Fox, mother of Terry Fox photographed this week in Prince Edward Island. Betty Fox has been on a marathon of her own, travelling and spreading the word that cancer research needs more money. (Nina Linton/Nina Linton for The Globe and Mail)
Betty Fox, mother of Terry Fox photographed this week in Prince Edward Island. Betty Fox has been on a marathon of her own, travelling and spreading the word that cancer research needs more money. (Nina Linton/Nina Linton for The Globe and Mail)

Obituary

Betty Fox, cancer-advocacy champion and mother of Terry Fox, dies Add to ...

The first national run was held on Sept. 13, 1981, less than three months after Terry Fox died. The following year, Ms. Fox quit her job to became the public face and family spokeswoman for the Marathon of Hope. There are days," she told a journalist as the 20th anniversary of the marathon approached, "when I have said to hell with it - let somebody else do it, this is too hard on me."

But aside from grumbling, she could never give up the cold calls, visits to hospices and corporations, and meetings with run organizers. "I believe in what Terry started. If I didn't believe that research was working, no way would I be here so many years later."

Last September, on the eve of the 29th annual run, she seemed more confident that the run would endure. She told The Globe that she always fretted that each run might be the last one, but "sitting back and looking at the people who believe, the stories you hear from people who are living many years after being diagnosed with cancer, I believe it will be around for a number of years."

Worries about the amount of money that was going into administration led to a parting of the ways with the Canadian Cancer Society and the launch of the Terry Fox Run as an independent charitable foundation on May 26, 1988. Over the years, more than $550-million has been raised in the annual September runs, which now occur around the world.

Beginnings

Elizabeth (Betty) Fox grew up in Melita, a farming community 320 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. As a girl, she was a tomboy who loved to play ball with her brothers and was a maternal figure to her youngest sister, Norma.

High school didn't interest her as much and she quit before graduating to train as a hairdresser in Winnipeg. That's where she met Rolland (Rolly) Fox, a switchman for the Canadian National Railway. They married in 1956. Their first son, Fred, was born a year later. He was named after her elder brother, who had lost both legs when he was in a plane crash in whiteout conditions in the northern part of the province. Their second son, Terry, was born on July 28, 1958, followed by their third son, Darrell, in 1961. Their only daughter, Judy, was born in 1964.

Rolly Fox disliked the bitter Winnipeg winters so much that he asked for a transfer to Vancouver in 1966, even though the price was heavy: the loss of 12 years' seniority at work. The family settled in Surrey and moved two years later to Port Coquitlam. Betty was a stay-at-home mother while her children were small and then she began working in a stationery shop.

The family work ethic and code of behaviour were instilled early: the children were expected to stay out of trouble, to use honorifics when addressing adults, to find jobs in the summers and to save money to pay for extras such as sports equipment. Paper routes were discouraged because she thought it was wrong to make her children work before going to school.

The Foxes were like many other working families until Terry was diagnosed with cancer when he was an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University and an avid athlete. The night before the surgery, Terry's basketball coach dropped by the hospital with an issue of Runner's World containing an article about Dick Traum, an above the knee amputee who had run in the New York Marathon.

As Terry later told journalist Leslie Scrivener for her book Terry Fox: His Story, he'd been "lying in bed looking at this magazine, thinking if he can do it, I can do it too. ... I don't know why I dreamed what I did. It's because I'm competitive. I'm a dreamer. I like challenges. I don't give up... When I decided to do it, I knew I was going to go all out. There was no in-between."

He dipped his prosthesis into the Atlantic Ocean in the St. John's harbour in Newfoundland on April 12, 1980, and began his run, hoping to raise a million dollars. His school friend Doug Alward was with him, driving the van, supplied by Ford, with "Marathon of Hope Cross Country Run in Aid of Cancer Research" printed on the side. His parents charted their progress in media accounts and a weekly collect phone call from the road.

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