Former Penacook Elementary principal Chris Foley dies

  • Chris Foley (left) and his wife, Lindsey, attend a Penacook Elementary School event last year.

  • 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 was running in honor of Penacook Elementary School Chris Foley who is battling cancer. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Chris Foley, 39, holds his 2-week-old son, William Christopher Foley, 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

  • 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

Monitor staff
Monday, September 25, 2017

Chris Foley, the Penacook Elementary School principal who touched countless people with his kindness, humor and dedication to teaching and family, died Sunday morning. He was 39.

A Sept. 24 entry on the family’s Caring Bridge online journal written by Foley’s wife, Lindsey, confirmed his death. The family has updated Foley’s friends, family, students and colleagues on Foley’s fight against sarcoma ever since a 7-inch tumor was found in his stomach in March.

“It is with great sadness that I write to share some difficult news,” Lindsey Foley wrote. “My beloved husband passed away peacefully early this morning, surrounded by his loving family. Your support on this journey meant the world to Chris and our entire family.”

News of Foley’s passing also came from Merrimack Valley School District Superintendent Mark MacLean.

“Anyone who was fortunate enough to accompany Chris on a trip through the halls of Penacook Elementary School witnessed the profound impacts of his loyalty and vision,” MacLean wrote. “Chris was beloved. He could not walk 20 feet without getting a dozen hugs and two dozen smiles from students and faculty alike. Chris’s visionary outlook provided license for teachers to think creatively and take appropriate and supported risks in their pedagogy.”

“His impact went well beyond PES,” MacLean continues. “His fellow administrators and colleagues throughout the state continually learned from his insights as well. He was a mentor, a friend, and a trusted colleague to us all.”

Counselors will be at the school Monday morning to help support students and staff.

Grief about the news spread like wildfire across social media.

Ken Bobrow of Concord said Foley was the first person he met when he moved to the area in 1988. Some focused on the impact Foley made on them long before he came to Penacook.

“Although I haven’t spoke to Chris in years, I still to this day look through where his grandma lived on East Side Drive and look for the kids playing ball at Foley Field,” he wrote. “Some of the best years of my life.”

Others focused on the pain of losing someone who reached so many at a young age.

“He really was amazing,” said Erin Chubb of Penacook, who runs a community Facebook page called Foley’s Followers. “He knew every single student as an individual. He cared about them, and he made them feel safe. ... His focus was always on others and on making them feel good.”

The story

An educator for 15 years, Foley was born and raised in Concord in a family of teachers. His father, Jim Foley, recently retired after directing band for 40 years; his mother, Deborah Foley, was an educator in Concord as well until she died in 1998. He began his career at Rundlett Middle School, where he met Lindsey, now a teacher at Broken Ground Elementary. Foley’s path then took him to William Allen School in Rochester, where he served as an assistant principal before going to Penacook Elementary.

Foley’s impact on his community was apparent from the beginning of his fight to the end. A group of former and current students and colleagues, family and friends came together in May for the 2017 Rock ’N Race 5K, where they raised $5,500 for the Concord Hospital Payson Center for Cancer Care in Foley’s name.

Their banner: a cut-out of Foley’s head, sporting one of his signature bow ties. Their name: Foley’s Followers.

The Rock ’N Race was just the beginning of the community’s support for the Foley family. On Aug. 28, a week after the birth of Chris and Lindsey’s third son, William Christopher Foley, the family learned devastating news – the cancer had spread to Chris’s lungs, ribs and skull. Treatment, they were told, would no longer be effective.

Immediately, supporters rallied from Concord, Penacook, Rochester and beyond. First, they went online, raising more than $25,000 for the Foley family via a YouCaring fundraiser.

Then they brought their support to the Foleys directly: on a warm summer night almost a month ago, dozens of the Followers gathered around Concord Regional VNA’s hospice house bearing candles, lamps and a desire to wish their hero one last goodbye.

Shannon Marquis, who organized the event, said then that she did not expect Foley to come out. But he did, surrounded by his family, Lindsey and their three children, Ellie, Camden and William. He was greeted with “You Are My Sunshine,” and stayed outside as his supporters laid their makeshift sunlight on a table in front of him, tears in their eyes.

And Robin Heins, a business administrator for SAU 46, started a chain reaction that resulted in the New England Patriots giving Foley a gift any Pats fan would adore: a sweatshirt worn and signed by head coach Bill Belichick, a shout-out from captain Matthew Slater and owner Robert Kraft, and 80 Patriots-themed bow ties for the Penacook staff.

On Friday, the staff sported those bow ties in a group photo to send to Foley. Now, those bow ties have a sadder purpose – they’ll be worn at Foley’s funeral.

It’s exactly what Foley, a man of grace and humor who refused to give in to the negative, wanted.

“I feel lucky, honestly,” he told the Monitor on Sept. 6. “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, you know?”