Club News

Johnny Fox found joy in giving

Frank on Friday

Frank Greally writes a tribute to Tallaght Athletic Club Coach, Johnny Fox, who died on Sunday night.

In his song The Joy Of Living Ewan MacColl includes a verse for his children – a message for them to find comfort and inspiration in on his passing. 

Ewan wrote: Each of you bears inside of you the gift of love/ May it bring you light and warmth/ And the pleasure of giving/

I can imagine that Johnny Fox, who died on Sunday evening, would have a similar message for his family. 

Johnny fully embraced the pleasure of giving and received a National Volunteer Award in recognition of his tireless volunteer and coaching commitment to his beloved Tallaght Athletic Club over 50 years. He played a pivotal role in the founding of the hugely successful Darkness Into Light fundraising Walk and Run event for Pieta House, which has over the years gained national and global acclaim.

On receiving that National Volunteer Award, Johnny – always a man of humility – was quick to focus on others who he felt were equally deserving of such recognition. He said:

“When I was presented with the award, it just got me thinking about the number of people out there who don’t receive any recognition. The amount of people in Tallaght alone who give their time freely is unbelievable.

“If we didn’t have volunteers, I don’t know where we would be.”

It was Johnny’s dear friend Cecil Johnston of Tallaght AC who told me of Johnny’s passing. It was always a joy to meet Johnny and Cecil and other members of Tallaght AC and I remember an evening at the end of last year when I visited the club to see star athlete Rhasidat Adeleke complete a training session on the track there.

Johnny Fox was Rhasidat’s first coach when she joined the club at age 10 and he was the first to identify her rare sprinting talent, guiding her development over the next five years. Even at that early stage of her athletic development, Johnny was predicting big things for Rhasidat – including Olympic success. Rhasidat’s mother, Ade, said that day in Tallaght: “Johnny Fox has always been the main man.”

Johnny was a wonderful volunteer role model who gave wholeheartedly of his time and coaching expertise to his club and local community for over five decades. He was a fine athlete too; first with St Augustine’s AC and then Metro St Brigid’s, then Brothers Pearse AC. He then settled at Tallaght AC where he gave over 50 years service as a coach. I remember one time in the early 1980s when Johnny completed a 50-mile charity fundraiser, running continuous laps alone around the Square in Tallaght.

I met Johnny in the Phoenix Park on a May morning in 2009 at the inaugural Darkness Into Light event. There was a small gathering and Johnny, sporting his hi-vis volunteer’s bib, told me that morning about how he helped to shape and mould the idea for the inaugural event that has since become a huge annual fundraiser for Pieta House.

“You probably don’t know my story Frank,” Johnny said that morning. “I lost one son to cancer and another to suicide, and this Darkness Into Light event came about after my wife Gertie and myself went to Pieta House to find some help and comfort. Pieta House needed to find some way of raising funds and that’s how the Darkness Into Light 5K event idea came about. It was a simple idea to start with and it has great community reach, bringing comfort to a lot of people who have lost loved ones, family and friends.”

Johnny and Gertie had 12 children and as a couple they were inseparable, always together and a joy to meet. Johnny always made sure to let you know that meeting Gertie was the best thing that happened in his life. “Gertie has always been my rock,” Johnny told me.

Johnny Fox will long be remembered for his generosity of spirit and for his tireless commitment to Tallaght AC, Irish athletics and Pieta House. Thoughts and prayers are with his wife Gertie and family. A Great Volunteer, Gone Home.

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