50 years of friendship for this Big Brothers match
Jim Clendenning and Omer 'Jerry' Foisy met through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oxford County
It was March of 1971 when Jim Clendenning and Omer "Jerry" Foisy first met for a chess match, starting a relationship that would span the next fifty years.
Clendenning's father had recently died and his older siblings no longer lived at home. Looking for a positive male figure in her 11-year-old son's life, his mother contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oxford County for help.
Foisy, who was 24 at the time, was a barber in Thamesford, Ont. A customer who worked for the Children's Aid Society asked him to consider becoming a Big Brother.
"We had three girls at the time, we have five girls now, and I said, "A little boy might be nice right now, why not?" he remembers.
"I know how lucky I was to meet Jerry, " said Clendenning, adding that the 13-year age gap made him more relatable. They'd both experienced mobility challenges in early childhood: Foisy survived polio in the days of the iron lung, Clendenning had been diagnosed with Legge-Calve-Perthes' disease at five and wore casts from the waist down.
"It gave us us another thing in common," Clendenning said, adding, "Jerry and I are pretty much on the same wavelength with a lot of things."
That first chess match grew to unscheduled visits, forging their families together and what Foisy calls a "genuine friendship." In those early years, Clendenning's Big Brother was "always that straight, steady line you could rely on if you needed."
He would often ask himself, "How would Jerry handle this?"
'One big, happy family'
When he became a father himself, Clendenning asked his Big Brother to be his son's godparent, making sure he was invited to all the birthdays and baptisms.
"Jerry was always on the list," he said. His own mother, once a widowed woman hoping to find a role model for her son, was grieved by both families when she died, described by Foisy as a, "second grandma to our girls."
"His family and our family, we're like one big, happy family," he said.
Now 61 and 74, the pair agrees they've never had a bad word between them. In recent years, they've stayed close with annual trips to Toronto Maple Leafs games and meeting for rounds of golf. The one activity they could never agree on was fishing.
"Initially, he tried to make me a fisherman, but it just wasn't in my DNA," said Clendenning. "Jerry is the kind of guy who'd stop on the side of the road if there was a puddle, to see if he could get a bite,"
After half a century of friendship, they recognize their bond through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada is unique.
"To last fifty years, there has to be a lot more there," said Clendenning.
"I don't call him my Brother anymore, he's my buddy," said Foisy, adding that Clendenning taught him to play chess at that first meeting and has continued to beat him ever since.
"It's been an honour and I couldn't ask for a better match."