Winning support: Patriots ‘do their job’ for former principal Chris Foley 

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

  • Chris Foley poses with a sweatshirt worn and signed by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. —Courtesy

  • Penacook elementary school acting principal Jenn Moore takes a photo of all the teachers at the school holding up their Patriots bow ties outside the school Friday afternoon for principal Chris Foley after the kids had been let out for the day. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Penacook elementary teacher Michelle Boudreau adjusts her bow tie before the shoot at the school Friday afternoon. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, September 23, 2017

Robin Heins knew she wanted to do something big for Penacook Elementary School principal Chris Foley once she learned he was out of cancer options.

The right gift for Foley, Heins felt, would be a conversation with Bill Belichick, the head coach of his beloved New England Patriots.

While a phone call never happened, Foley did receive something only the most loyal of Pats fans could truly appreciate, thanks to the work of his supporters.

Belichick, known to the football world for his penchant for wearing hooded sweatshirts on the sideline, sent Foley a game-worn “Hoodie” signed by Belichick himself. Foley also received personal video taped messages from Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Patriots captain Matthew Slater.

The message from both was clear.

“I heard you’re a big Patriots fan,” Slater said. “And I just wanted you to know, us here in New England, we’re a big fan of yours.”

“I understand ... you’re known by your Foley Followers at Penacook Elementary as the Bill Belichick of principals,” Kraft said. “How cool is that? ...We wanted you to know we’re all rooting for you, big time.”

But the Patriots didn’t stop at the messages and the hoodie. On Friday, 80 Patriots-themed bow ties were delivered and passed out to Penacook Elementary’s staff. Those bow ties won’t be just mementos of Foley’s favorite accessory; eventually, they’ll be worn at his funeral service, which Foley said will be closer to a tailgate than a service.

It’s a hard thing to think about, Foley said via phone, but it’s what he wants. As for what the gesture meant to him, he could only describe it simply.

“It was really nice of them,” he said, pausing to cough, “to reach out like that.”

Heins said the outreach was more than she expected. But the gestures didn’t come about easily.

See, Heins had tried to contact the Patriots a few weeks ago, but wasn’t making any headway.

But then she got a call from Chris Burke, a Northfield man who drives buses for the school district. He’d read about Foley in a recent Monitor article and remembered working with Foley during his Beyond the Bell after school program at Penacook Elementary. He thought he could help.

“I sent out emails to the Patriots and the Bill Belichick Foundation, and then I remembered that a friend of mine is friendly with some of those people,” he said. “It’s all about who you know, you know? She said she would reach out to somebody.”

Like a water bucket passing down a line of hands, the call to action spread from person to person. It’s unclear just how many hands the request went through, but soon enough, acting principal for Penacook Elementary Jenn Moore was contacted by Patriots media relations coordinator Anne Noland. Last week, the videos landed in the Foley’s emails.

The bow ties, straight out of the team’s pro shop, almost didn’t happen, but Moore said Robert Kraft was able to make a special order happen, just for Penacook Elementary.

“It was all him,” Moore said of Kraft. “We were very surprised.”

Foley, 39, was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer in March when a seven-inch tumor was found in his stomach. On Aug. 28, after going through surgeries and chemotherapy, doctors told him the cancer had spread to his ribs, lungs and skull, and treatments would no longer be effective. The news came one week after the birth of his third child, William Christopher Foley.

Since then, Foley has been moved to Concord Regional VNA’s hospice house, but the community’s support has followed him. A YouCaring fundraiser has raised over $25,000 in a few weeks, and a vigil – attended by dozens of friends, colleagues and students, current and former – was held two weeks ago at the hospice house.

Like most of Foley’s supporters, Heins was shy about taking credit for making the gestures happen.

“It was really a collective effort,” she said. “We were all equipped – people wanted this to happen, and everybody knew somebody who knew somebody.”

Moore disagreed. “Robin was the one who started it all,” she said.

And you can’t forget Burke, who was just as adamant as Heins that it’s the results, not the effort, that matter in this story.

“I don’t see (what I did) as having helped at all,” he said. “I see it as the least I can do. It’s about Chris Foley and what a great guy he is.”

Later, he added: “It just goes to show what a tight-knit community Penacook is. We take care of our own.”