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Story of the Year No. 4: Chris Foley’s cancer battle touches community

  • Penacook Elementary School fourth-grader Holden Turner, 9, of Penacook visits Chris Foley with his parents Jeremy and Heather Turner outside Concord Regional VNA's hospice house in Concord on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Elizabeth Frantz

  • Robins Heins and Chris Foley pose with a sweatshirt worn and signed by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

  • People gathered to hold a vigil and visit with Chris Foley, 39, at Concord Regional VNA's hospice house in Concord on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Foley left his position as principal of Penacook Elementary School in March after being diagnosed with cancer and entered hospice care in late August. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Chris Foley (left), 39, spends time with his family including wife Lindsey and children Camden, William and Ellie, at Concord Regional VNA's hospice house on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Foley left his position as principal of Penacook Elementary School in March after being diagnosed with cancer and entered hospice care in late August. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Chris Foley (top) and his family received an outpouring of support after the Penacook Elementary School principal was diagnosed with cancer. He died in September. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • Team Foley's Followers gathers before the start of this year's Rock 'N Race 5K in downtown Concord on Thursday, May 18, 2017. The team is running in honor of Penacook Elementary School Chris Foley who is battling cancer. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz



Monitor staff
Thursday, December 28, 2017

Penacook Elementary School students went caroling at Concord Regional’s VNA hospice house on Dec. 15.

It was a kind gesture, and one that took on an extra meaning for the students since the passing of their principal at the hospice house in late September.

At age 39, Chris Foley, the charismatic former Penacook Elementary principal, lost his fight against cancer. He died surrounded by his family, including his wife, Concord teacher Lindsey Foley, and three children, including a newborn son, and he left behind a community of friends and family in mourning.

But Foley’s fight, however short, was a lesson in grace under painful circumstances – and an example of how one man can touch an entire community.

Foley was always rooted in Concord. He was born in the city, and after getting a bachelor’s degree in childhood studies and a Master of Education in educational leadership from Plymouth State University, he returned to teach sixth grade at Rundlett Middle School, where he met Lindsey. He also coached youth baseball in the community.

Foley went on to serve as an assistant principal at Rochester Middle School and then as principal of William Allen Elementary School in Rochester until 2010.

Foley came to Penacook Elementary School as a principal in 2013. A Monitor story at the time shows a man who was optimistic about his role, who planned to cultivate a positive culture at the school and dove into the school’s International Baccalaureate program.

“His answers to questions were thoughtful, and you sense he had a vision on how teaching and learning and how schools are supposed to run,” former SAU 46 superintendent Mike Martin said then.

The next time the Monitor wrote about Foley, it was under darker, but still hopeful circumstances springing from his cancer diagnosis.

In May, hundreds of Foley’s Followers sporting bowties in his name rallied at the 2017 Rock ’N Race 5K. They raised more than $5,000 for the Concord Hospital Payson Center for Cancer Care by race day, making them one of the highest-ranked teams.

Foley was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, recovering from his surgery to have the sarcoma cancer tumor removed from his stomach. At that point, the future was still uncertain.

“It seems like the biopsy results should come soon and we will get the family call this week,” he wrote on a Caring Bridges blog in May. “There are so many possibilities that could result from that, but we will remain positive and together.”

But just a week after the Foley’s third child, William Christopher Foley, was born in August, the news came: The cancer had spread and treatment would no longer be effective.

Again, the community rallied around the Foleys, raising money and reaching out to the New England Patriots, hoping for a conversation with Foley’s idol, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

A YouCaring campaign raised almost $30,000 for the family, and the Patriots bestowed a game-worn hoodie worn by Belichick himself, video shoutouts from Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater and 80 bowties to be given to the PES staff.

After the fatal diagnosis, Foley spoke openly about the life he’d lived and how grateful he was for it. He made an appearance at a candlelight vigil in early September, where he stayed outside for hours to say hello – and goodbye – to students, parents, teachers and staff.

“I feel lucky, honestly,” Foley said during a Sept. 8 interview. “I feel like Lindsey and I have built such a strong foundation to succeed, to have our kids have a successful life. I feel overwhelmed with support and care and kindness. ... I’m a fortunate person to have what I’ve had.”