Microblog Mondays: Terry Who?

I was eating lunch at the university today when I overheard something that brought me up short. Two undergraduates (both male) were sitting at the table next to me, and one of them had pointed to a poster showing an upcoming film. The words “Terry Fox” were uttered.

“Who’s Terry Fox?” said the other.

I just about fell out of my chair, as did the first student.

“You don’t know who Terry Fox is?” he asked, incredulous.

“Never heard of him. Is he a director or something?”

The first student then proceeded to give his friend a brief rundown of the Terry Fox heroic arc.

“I can’t believe you don’t know who he is,” he finished off, almost stammering in his shock. “We have a run in school every year. Everyone knows who he is.”

At this point I couldn’t help myself and jumped in to the conversation. “Saying you don’t know who Terry Fox is,” I said, “is like shouting to everyone in this room that you’re not from here.”

“I’m not from here,” said the second student. “I was born here but I grew up [in southern United State].”

We gave him the salient details: the cancer; the loss of his leg; the Marathon of Hope; the return of the cancer; his continuing legacy.

“He’s the ultimate Canadian hero,” I finished. “He’s an Everyman. He’s an ordinary man who set out to do something extraordinary, and even though he failed in his ultimate goal, his legacy has lived on. It’s probably even more powerful now than if he had made it all the way across Canada. He’s not political. It doesn’t matter what you think or what you believe, you can’t help but support him.”

“Yeah,” said the second student, by now completely on board with the Terry Fox myth, “if you were against him, you’d be for cancer!”

We all laughed, I said I hoped they had a nice afternoon, and I headed back to the library.

It was an interesting conversation to have the same day I read Mali’s post about the cultural differences between use of language. Right up until the American student opened his mouth it had literally never occurred to me that there were people out there who had never heard of Terry Fox. His Heritage Minute is embedded in my memory for life.

So, my readers, you tell me. If you are not Canadian, have you heard of our hero? If you are, is he as strongly embedded in your cultural consciousness as my own?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.


Filed under Microblog Mondays

15 responses to “Microblog Mondays: Terry Who?

  1. Jen

    I’ll be the first to comment…I live in Arizona and I have never heard of him. Now I have…I just read about his story and am amazed at his foundation.

  2. I confess to being one of the people who had to look him up. And now I’m trying to think of an American hero who non-Americans might not know – Arthur Ashe? Rosa Parks?

    The cultural differences are fascinating.

  3. I am Canadian (although I have an American mother & relatives 😉 ) and not only do I know who Terry Fox is, I am old enough (gulp) — just a few years younger than he was — to remember his Marathon of Hope, very well. (Strange/scary to think that was nearly FORTY years ago, yikes!!) I was in university at the time (1980) — the press coverage grew as he made his way across Canada and through southern Ontario, and it looked like he’d make it to Winnipeg later that fall. My friends & I talked about how we’d have to go see him when he arrived. And then of course, he had to stop running, just outside of Thunder Bay, and died less than a year later (June 1981). I cried and cried when I heard he’d passed away. The bank I worked for was a major sponsor of the Terry Fox Run for many years. One of the guys who worked with us on a contract one year had had the same type of cancer as Terry and lost his foot to it. He said that the research funded by the Terry Fox Foundation helped save his life. He was a volunteer with the run and did a lot of press interviews for it that year. He went back to school later that year, and I often wonder how he is doing these days.

    I have been to the Terry Fox monument just outside of Thunder Bay. The first time was with my parents in 1984. It was by the side of the TransCanada Highway, near where he’d stopped his run. Some years later they moved it to a park, again just off the TransCanada, but on a hill with a stunning view of Lake Superior. Dh & I stopped there two summers ago when we were driving home to southern Ontario from visiting my parents in Manitoba. There are plaques at the base of the statue that tell his story. We were there fairly early in the morning, when there weren’t many other people around yet. It is very peaceful, moving spot.

    And I know about Arthur Ashe & Rosa Parks. 😉 I read Ashe’s memoir years ago — it’s beautifully written & there’s a letter to his daughter at the very end that had me bawling.

  4. Interesting post!

    I didn’t know who he was by name, but when you mentioned his run, I certainly recalled his feat. But no, most NZers would not know who he was. He certainly plays no part in our cultural consciousness.

    I know who Arthur Ashe and Rosa Parks were. The US culture is so pervasive, it’s almost impossible to miss. Though having said that, I just checked with my husband, and he recognised Arthur Ashe’s name, but not Rosa Parks. That might not be uncommon here.

    As a NZer, we are used to being ignored (we are regularly dropped of maps of the world!), and so the assumption that non-NZers won’t know of any of our heroes is a reasonable one. The only one we might expect people in other countries to know would probably be Sir Edmund Hillary.

  5. Never heard of him!

  6. As an American and an admirer of our Canadian neighbors, I cannot imagine anyone “of a certain age” who doesn’t remember the Terry Fox story. As we used to say, “it was in all the Papers.” 🙂

    Terry was a courageous young man and a role model. I would like to visit the memorial in Manitoba, but alas, it is approximately 1,800 miles from my location. I’m pleased that his fellow Canadians remember him so fondly.

    RIP, Terry.

  7. Turia

    This is so interesting!

    countingpinklines, I know Rosa Parks’ story very well, but I confess I had to look up Arthur Ashe (but I do know the story of Jackie Robinson).

    loribeth, I think you posted about visiting the memorial a couple of years ago. I was under two when he died, but I can still see the footage in his Heritage Minute in my mind and I had a book (https://www.amazon.ca/Value-Facing-Challenge-Story-Terry/dp/0717281345) that I read over and over. And E. has talked about him ever since he started junior kindergarten. It’s amazing that his legacy has continued for so long. That’s an incredible story about your coworker- it’s wonderful to hear that all the money raised and the research is making a difference.

    Mali, I certainly know about Sir Edmund Hillary, but I suspect you’d be right in that I wouldn’t have heard about anyone else.

    Suzanna Catherine, that’s an interesting point that Americans who are old enough to remember his Marathon of Hope would likely know who he is.

    Thanks, everyone, for weighing in. It certainly made me think about cultural touchstones and implicit bias.

  8. Mel

    This is SO interesting. So I didn’t know Terry Fox until this story, but it also makes me think about going through the Portrait Gallery and sometimes not knowing the people in the painting. They are all famous Americans, and yet unless their story is front and center in your world, you may not have ever heard of them.

  9. nonsequiturchica

    Nope, sorry don’t know who Terry Fox is (born and raised in the US). It sounds like he died in 1981 and I was 2 that year so that may also be a reason….

  10. I had to look up Arthur Ashe but would have thought Rosa Parks would resonate with anyone, so it is interesting to me that they were proposed as equal in stature for the U.S. consciousness! (am Canadian, know Terry’s story well)

  11. Ana

    Also born & raised in the US, never heard of him. I think I was a bit too young to have heard the story as it was happening, and definitely not part of the cultural consciousness.

  12. Chris

    Also born and raised in the US, and had never heard of him, but like Ana I think I’m a bit too young to have heard about it as it was happening. And, this is again a wonderful thing about the internet and learning new things. Because now I’ll read about him. Thank you!

  13. Michigan girl here, and I’ve never heard of him! It’s absolutely amazing how in our minds, certain experiences are almost universal. I’ve lived in the same state my entire life, and was taught in school about local legends/heroes (some real, some fictional) and it amazes me still when I realize that not everyone learned about those same people. It’s the same with some holidays as well! These differences fascinate me to no end.

  14. Síochána Arandomhan

    I am Canadian and yes I was taught the story in early elementary. And as a teacher now myself I continue to teach it. My current school does the Terry Fox run / walk. I agree he is a hero that crosses boundaries.

  15. Turia

    Thanks, everyone, for weighing in with your experiences.

    I think what I found most interesting about it was what it revealed about me. I don’t think Terry Fox would have been my answer if someone asked me to name a famous Canadian or a Canadian hero. He wasn’t on my radar in that way. But I was shocked when someone else didn’t know about him. So it’s almost as if I didn’t think of him as a famous Canadian because I just assumed that everyone already knew about him, like he was special to the whole world, not just to us.

    It’s certainly made me think a lot about cultural transmission and assumptions.

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