Bill Vigars spent much of the 1990s based in Victoria, working as everything from a chef with the Oak Bay Marine Group to posts as a communications director with the provincial government and the David Foster Foundation.
Vigars, 73, maintains a strong bond with city, despite having lived in Vancouver for the past 20 years. Many of his close friends live in Victoria and he has lent his time and effort to his various Terry Fox tributes the city has produced. He’s a valuable resource in that regard: As the then-director of public relations for the Canadian Cancer Society, Vigars spent nearly three months on the road with Fox as he attempted to run across the country in aid of cancer research.
The Marathon of Hope — which celebrated its 40th anniversary on Sept. 1 — came to its official end on June 28, 1981, when Fox died at the age of 22. But his remarkable 143-day, 5,373-km quest continues to inspire millions around the world — Vigars included. “Somehow, some way, almost every day he comes into my head and into my heart,” he said. “The older I get, the prouder I am.”
The latest Fox project with that Vigars is associated is the book, Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters, a written celebration by 40 Canadians to mark the 40th anniversary of Fox’s Marathon of Hope. The book put Vigars — who wrote a chapter and helped secure several contributors — into contact with two notable Victorians, NBA star Steve Nash and Olympic rower Silken Laumann, who each contributed a letter. Nash remembers waiting anxiously for the Marathon of Hope to reach Victoria, which was to be its final stop, while Laumann, who suffered a near-catastrophic leg injury 10 weeks prior to winning a bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics, credited Fox’s courage with helping her overcome self-doubt.
Vigars’s role in helping shape Forever Terry, which hit stores on Saturday, is not the first time he has called on his famous friends and acquaintances for help with a Fox-related tribute. Vigars organized a series of video clips from a cast of musicians (Jann Arden, Sarah McLachlan, Tom Cochrane), athletes (Laumann, Hayley Wickenheiser) and cross-generational celebrities (Foster, Wayne Gretzky, Bryan Adams) to celebrate Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada, the travelling exhibit that opened at the Royal B.C. Museum in 2017. Vigars is also good friends with Victoria businessman Rob Reid, who was the driving force behind a Terry Fox statue that was erected in 2005 at Mile 0 in Victoria to mark the 25th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope.
Forever Terry was edited by Fox’s younger brother, Darrell, with whom Vigars remains close (Vigars joined Terry Fox, Darrell Fox and driver Doug Allward for a portion of the tour in 1980, staying from June 13 until Sept. 1.) Darrell Fox knew that Vigars, who went on to a successful career in the film industry after he left Victoria, was in direct contact with many of Terry Fox’s famous admirers, so he had him solicit contributions from the likes of Nash, Laumann, and singer Michael Bublé, among others.
“Every time you do it, it’s a new challenge,” Vigars said of his behind-the-scenes work on Forever Terry. “Some people will just pick up the phone. But others, you have to go through several layers of people even to get the message through.”
Bublé, who wrote the foreword to the book, was hesitant initially, Vigars said; the singer was four years old in 1980, when the Marathon of Hope got underway, and had no discernible memory of it. Vigars eventually got Bublé to come on board by showing him what Nash had written. Nash, a Victoria product, was six years old at the start of Fox’s marathon and has been very vocal about the impact Fox had on him as a person and professional. He also co-directed the 2010 documentary about Fox, Into the Wind.
“Terry was my hero as a kid,” Nash writes in Forever Terry. “He inspired me to go for it. To believe in myself. To get to work.”
Vigars’s contribution to the book is joined by letters by a range of Canadians, from authors Margaret Atwood and Douglas Coupland to athletes Bobby Orr, Christine Sinclair, Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. Several everyday citizens are also included, which was an important facet of the book to recognize, according to Vigars. “Some of what hit me the best were the ones that aren’t celebrities, but cancer patients who are alive today because of Terry,” he said. “Reading this book is moving. One moment I’m crying, and two minutes later I’m laughing.”
The Internet is home to several photos of Fox and Vigars together, but one of the more notable ones shows Vigars, then just 33, with his arms around Fox’s distraught parents. Vigars can be seen in the background, on the tarmac of a Thunder Bay airport, with his back to the camera; Terry Fox is in the foreground, strapped to a stretcher. He is being boarded onto a plane which is headed back to his home in Vancouver, his cancer now metastasized in his lungs. The date was Sept. 2, 1980. Fox and Vigars and the rest of the Marathon of Hope would never return to the road.
Terry Fox’s goal was to raise $24 million by the end of his run, one dollar for every Canadian, he said. To date, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised more than $800 million for cancer research. A large part of that is due to the annual Terry Fox Run, which is now held in dozens of countries. This year’s fundraising run will take place virtually — for the first time in history — on Sept. 20, which also happens to be Vigars’s 74th birthday.
Participants can sign up at terryfox.org, for the purpose of raising funds for cancer research. COVID-19 has made traditional, in-person runs an impossibility this year, but Vigars wouldn’t be surprised if the virtual turnout was substantial. He has witnessed overwhelming support for Terry Fox every year since 1980. “There’s a little bit of Terry Fox in every Canadian,” he said.