A hero right here

Brian
Brian Jones
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Steve Fonyo's year is apparently getting better.

In January, he was stripped of his Order of Canada, and Canadians barely noticed, let alone rallied to his support or voiced coast-to-coast outrage.

This week, Canwest News Service reported Fonyo couldn't pay for the wedding he and his bride-to-be dreamed of, and - as so often happens in these situations, which regularly restore readers' faith in humanity - a stranger offered to pay the tab for the forthcoming nuptials.

Steve Fonyo's year is apparently getting better.

In January, he was stripped of his Order of Canada, and Canadians barely noticed, let alone rallied to his support or voiced coast-to-coast outrage.

This week, Canwest News Service reported Fonyo couldn't pay for the wedding he and his bride-to-be dreamed of, and - as so often happens in these situations, which regularly restore readers' faith in humanity - a stranger offered to pay the tab for the forthcoming nuptials.

Fittingly, the couple will tie the knot on Fonyo Beach in Victoria, B.C., the site where he ended his Journey For Lives run across Canada in 1985.

Fonyo, of course, began his epic cross-country jaunt in St. John's. Just like Terry Fox. But the similarity between the two didn't extend much beyond the overpass.

Fox - tragically and famously - halted his run in Thunder Bay after a recurrence of cancer, and died within a year. Fonyo ran for 14 months and succeeded in reaching Vancouver Island. If anyone is still counting, some $400 million or more has been raised for cancer research in Terry Fox's name, and he is - rightfully and deservedly - considered a Canadian hero. Fonyo raised $13 million, and was quickly forgotten by the Canadian public.

Stolen stature

Steve Fonyo would have been put among the pantheon of bona fide Canadian heroes - Tommy Douglas, Norman Bethune, Terry Fox - if he had died from, rather than survived, the cancer that took his leg.

But Fonyo lived, and so his staggering accomplishment lacked the enduring heartbreak and legend of Fox's disrupted run and premature death.

The Canadian public's indifference toward Fonyo's fundraising run is partly because, well, he isn't Terry Fox and couldn't be Terry Fox, but had finished what Fox hadn't completed.

Fonyo deserved far more admiration than he ever received.

He ran the length of the country on one good leg and one artificial leg. His brash declaration in 1984 that he was setting out to complete what Terry Fox had started was shocking.

I heard the news in Vancouver that spring that a young man from B.C. who had lost a leg to cancer was aiming to run across the country to raise funds for research, and thought, "What? Another one?"

It seemed foolhardy and majestic at the same time.

By 1984, Terry Fox was already an established Canadian hero. And then some teenager comes along and says he's going to do the same thing. What gall. What gumption. You had to love him for it, although a lot of people didn't.

Troubled times

A good argument can be made that Fonyo is to blame for his lack of stature among the people who once cheered him on, even if some did it grudgingly.

He's been in the news over the years, mostly due to his court appearances and jail time for various offences such as fraud, assault and drunk driving.

Even so, taking away his Order of Canada was unwarranted.

Plenty of politicians, athletes, rock stars and celebrities have committed worse acts without losing the public's devotion or earning their contempt.

We shouldn't judge Fonyo so harshly. The courts already judged and punished him, as was their job. But on a personal level, we should separate his occasionally troubled life from the fantastic feat he performed as a young man.

One of the fascinating things about Fox and Fonyo is that they were both from B.C. And they both travelled clear across the country to begin their run in St. John's. There is a monument here recognizing the efforts of one, but not the other. Perhaps as a wedding present, St. John's should finally install a plaque paying tribute to Fonyo.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canwest News Service, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's, Vancouver Island Victoria Thunder Bay B.C.

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Recent comments

  • Jerome
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Brian Mulroney was the recipient of ''The Companion of the Order of Canada''.
    Need anything else be said?

  • Kent
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    I find it outrageous that the Order of Canada was taken from him. It was based on the contributions he made as a result of his sacrifice and fundraising, NOT on his behavior afterwards. His contribution far exceeded that of many other Order of Canada recipients, such as some multi-million dollar athletes, whose only contribution to society was playing a stupid game. Give me a break

  • Fred
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Brian, Congrats on a great column.
    Finally someone has spoken up on behalf of Mr. Fonyo. Has anyone thought that his behavious might, just might, be the result of the way Canadians treated him after he completed his run?

    He completed the run, but no one, gave him credit for doing so.

    It has been disheartening to see how Mr. Fonyo's life has turned out. He did set a goal and accopmplished it.

    I agree with Kent M. he should not have been stripped of his OOC. The reason he was awarded the OOC was because of his run across Canada. He deserves it. Give it back to him. Or are they now saying that he didn't runa cross Canada?

  • baie boy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    I agree 100%. Fonyo & David Ahenakew should get to keep their Order of Canada. Ahenakew earned his & lost it for speaking his mind. Nonsense.

  • Jerome
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Brian Mulroney was the recipient of ''The Companion of the Order of Canada''.
    Need anything else be said?

  • Kent
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    I find it outrageous that the Order of Canada was taken from him. It was based on the contributions he made as a result of his sacrifice and fundraising, NOT on his behavior afterwards. His contribution far exceeded that of many other Order of Canada recipients, such as some multi-million dollar athletes, whose only contribution to society was playing a stupid game. Give me a break

  • Fred
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Brian, Congrats on a great column.
    Finally someone has spoken up on behalf of Mr. Fonyo. Has anyone thought that his behavious might, just might, be the result of the way Canadians treated him after he completed his run?

    He completed the run, but no one, gave him credit for doing so.

    It has been disheartening to see how Mr. Fonyo's life has turned out. He did set a goal and accopmplished it.

    I agree with Kent M. he should not have been stripped of his OOC. The reason he was awarded the OOC was because of his run across Canada. He deserves it. Give it back to him. Or are they now saying that he didn't runa cross Canada?

  • baie boy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    I agree 100%. Fonyo & David Ahenakew should get to keep their Order of Canada. Ahenakew earned his & lost it for speaking his mind. Nonsense.