A poignant moment in time: Terry Fox in Madoc, 1980

September is the time of year when Terry Fox Runs are held all across Canada and beyond, with ordinary people walking and running to raise money for cancer research. No doubt you’ve been reading in your local newspaper about a Terry Fox Run in your area in recent days. (The official day for the event this year was Sept. 14, but as far as I can tell the run in many places is held around that general time as opposed to on that specific date.)

As I’m sure every Canadian knows, the run commemorates and honours the late Terry Fox, a young man from Port Coquitlam, B.C. who, having himself lost a leg to bone cancer at the age of 18, in April 1980 undertook what seemed like the crazy project of running (or in his case, given his artificial leg, run/hopping) all across Canada to raise money to help others who would go through the kind of thing he had. He started in St. John’s, Nfld., with pretty much nobody paying any attention. But as he made his way westward at a pace of 26 miles (a marathon‘s worth) a day, people started taking notice of what he called his Marathon of Hope, and by the time he got to Ontario he was pretty much a household name. Then in September of that year, having reached Thunder Bay, Ont., he had to stop; the cancer had returned. He died on June 28, 1981. He was only 22 years old.

The runs that have taken place in September ever since then have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and Terry Fox has been an inspiration to all of Canada. More than 30 years since his death, I think we tend to think of him more as an idealized icon than as an actual living person – a skinny kid with a crazy dream.

And so it was with a poignant delight that I discovered that my friends at CHTV cable TV in nearby Madoc, Terry and Eileen Pigden, had recently restored and posted video footage from the day in 1980 when Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope took him through that town. There Terry Fox is again – not really large as life, but small as life; he really was a skinny kid. His natural charm, good humour and patience come though so well as a slightly awkward but cute young lad (Peter Sutton, according to the credits) asks the celebrity visitor a series of questions (with some prompting from onlookers off to the side). You can see Terry’s shy pride when he says that his original goal of raising $1 million might be beaten, that it could go as high as $10 million. If only he could have known that, as of 2014, more than $650 million has been raised in his name!

There’s a cheque presentation, hand-shaking, and Terry the self-possessed skinny kid being Terry the self-possessed skinny kid. He talks about what it’s like to run or walk with an artificial leg, about how it can be hard to get out of bed every day at 4 a.m. knowing he has to run yet another 26 miles. He tells the group assembled on St. Lawrence Street East that as of Madoc he’d covered 2,031 miles; apparently he was keeping track of every one.

I’ve written before (notably here) about the wonderful work that Terry and Eileen Pigden do in attending community events throughout this area, filming them, and posting them online, thus preserving them for posterity and allowing people from all over the world to enjoy them vicariously. But another important part of what they are doing is finding great footage shot in years past by Terry and his father, Gordon Pigden (it was Gord who filmed Terry Fox), restoring it, and sharing that, too. This is priceless local history, and I think the Terry Fox video is a particularly wonderful example of that. It brings the real Terry Fox back to us.

Gord Pigden’s video captures Terry, as he prepares to take his leave of Madoc and run on west, saying: “I’m trying to be an example, and a good example, to people.”

Mission accomplished, Terry. And in preserving that moment for us: mission accomplished, Gord, Terry and Eileen Pigden. Thank you to you all.

2 thoughts on “A poignant moment in time: Terry Fox in Madoc, 1980

  1. Katherine, as Lawrence Welk would say, “wonderful, wonderful”. Talk about being up close and personal with Terry Fox – amazing! I had no idea this piece of history existed never mind a recording made of Terry’s visit to Madoc. I taught high school on and off (mostly on) for 28 years until my retirement in 2008 and while teaching, I got quite involved in the Terry Fox campaigns at the school where I was teaching. I have an artificial hip and could not do the mini school marathons but I had a strong desire to participate in some way so I would set up my camcorders and tape the staff and students as they passed by. Then I would make a short video for the next assembly but the real work came when I would edit my footage with official Marathon of Hope videos from the Terry Fox Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society. In the early 1990s, Terry’s mom, Betty, came to our school and wowed staff and students alike – as the saying goes, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. After her wonderful address, she stayed for the regular Terry Fox run pep rally type assembly during which my edited video was shown. I had acquired Mrs. Fox’s permission to video her speech so when she saw the video I had prepared for the assembly she put 2 and 2 together and approached me to ask if I was responsible for the assembly video. When I told her that it was my video Mrs. Fox paid me a terrific compliment by asking me if she could have a copy for the Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society to use in future presentations. She also mentioned if I ever tired of teaching, there was a job for me with the Marathon of Hope making videos. I considered the offer but it would have involved a lot of travelling, not something I wanted to do with a young family.
    Congratulations Katherine for keeping the dream alive.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Douglas, but all the credit for this fantastic (and poignant) video of Terry Fox’s visit to Madoc during the Marathon of Hope goes to Gord Pigden, who shot it, and his son Terry for preserving it and sharing it online for future generations to watch. I am so glad that you, as a person who has done so much to support the work that goes on in Terry’s name, found Gord’s video through Meanwhile, at the Manse. I never had the chance to hear Betty Fox speak, but I have heard many times how powerful her words were. Good work indeed, and how great it is that it carries on.

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