Bill Vigars shares stories from the Marathon of Hope

Bill Vigars played an important role in Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. In 1980, Vigars was the Director of Public Relations and Fundraising for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario Division, who acted as Terry Fox’s public relations organizer, his close friend and confidante. He set up several key events as the Run entered Toronto and also provided levity. Vigars was recently interviewed to share his thoughts on the 30th Anniversary of the Marathon of Hope.

“I had only been with the Cancer Society for 3 months, when I received a note around mid April, from my boss about Terry’s quest. At that point I began following him through the news at the beginning of his Run,” Vigars stated. “My first interaction with Terry came when he called from a payphone in Nova Scotia. He was a little down, as things weren’t going as planned and I wanted to boost his spirits. I asked him how I could help him in Ontario and he mentioned events that might involve the CN Tower, the Toronto Blue Jays and his hockey heroes Darryl Sittler and Bobby Orr.”

It was in Edmundston, NB, that Vigars first met Terry. “I took a few days off and drove there to meet Terry, brother Darryl and best friend Doug Alward. After sleeping for awhile in the back of my car, I rolled out of the vehicle at 4:00 AM to greet Darryl Fox. He inquisitively asked, “You’re the guy from the Cancer Society?”

“The next 4 days, I spent in the van, trying to get their routine down pat. Terry struck me as a regular guy who was incredibly determined, focused and who saw the run as an athletic feat. Terry moved individuals and crowds as he spoke from the heart and had an incredible intensity of purpose,” Vigars shared. “He also really enjoyed the company of children, a good debate and had a great dry sense of humour.

One thing that struck Vigars along the tour, was how emotional it was. “We heard stories all along the route from people who had lost friends and family to cancer. You could see the emotion in their eyes as they gave support to Terry. It was tough”.

Bill Vigars at 2010 Women's Gold Medal Game

Bill Vigars at 2010 Women’s Gold Medal Game

Throughout the Run, an interesting trend was noted. Dollars that were collected in hats, garbage bags or anything else, were often crumpled. “What was happening,” Vigars explained, “is that people waited along the routes, sometimes for a few hours and there was so much emotion in anticipation of seeing Terry, that they ended up clutching their donations in their hands until he arrived.”

Vigars and the boys also had a number of light moments on this journey. They had downtime during breakfasts and lunches and an occasional food or water fight would break out. Vigars recalls one day when Doug put soy sauce down Terry’s shirt, while Terry responded by pouring rice down Doug’s shorts.

Brother Darryl provided regular comic relief. During the Run through Toronto, Vigars remembers Darryl Sittler running behind Terry with Darryl Fox along University Avenue. Girls would scream, “Darryl, Darryl”. Darryl Fox commented to Sittler, that young one is calling for me; the older one is calling for you!

Among other memorable moments, Vigars laughed about the dinner Terry had with Bobby Orr. “Their salads had arrived and Orr excused himself to go to the bathroom. As he left, Terry took one of Orr’s croutons off his plate and ate it. He was pleased that he could say he took a crouton from Bobby Orr, something he could tell his grand kids about.”

When it was found in Thunder Bay, Ont. that Terry’s cancer had returned, Vigars was devastated. “I didn’t see it coming and I was lost for weeks.”

Today, Vigars resides in Vancouver, BC and ponders the 30th Anniversary of the Marathon of Hope. “Initially, I had concerns that the Run would fade, but back in ’85 around the Beaches in Toronto, I saw terrific support from the schools. I attribute a lot to the school system for supporting the annual Terry Fox Runs so that his incredible story will get passed along to future generations.


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