By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
Slain conflict journalist and videographer Jim Foley will live on in all of us because of his parents’ willingness to travel far and wide to retell his story of sacrifice, and their unrelenting hope that we can all be more like him.
James W. Foley was by all accounts a kind, generous and driven young man hell-bent on reporting the struggles of faraway people who would give their lives to be free. The Wolfeboro-born son of Diane and John Foley – the oldest of five children – valued his own freedom that much, his mother said.
“Jim challenges us,” Diane Foley said Wednesday during a phone interview while travelling home to New Hampshire from a Committee to Protect Journalists gathering in New York City.
“The truth does not allow him to have died in vain,” Diane said.
Today, Thanksgiving Day, Jim’s family marks the sixth anniversary of his capture in northern Syria where he was working as a freelancer reporting on the civil war. His Twitter posts from the dangerous war zone stop abruptly that day, Nov. 22, 2012. His own words on Twitter detail his quest: “i’ve reported from iraq, afghan, libya, syria. a lot of questions, no answers.”
The former teacher was 40 years old when he was publicly beheaded by ISIS almost two years after being kidnapped. He was tortured, starved and held in a cell with sometimes as many as 19 hostages for almost two years before being murdered.
One brother, Air Force Lt. John Foley Jr., will be unable to share the holiday with family in Rochester because he is stationed in Saudi Arabia, but his other siblings will be together.
“We’re grateful. We’ll be with our family and extended family,” Diane said.
The Foleys pursue their mission to help protect journalists through the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.
“Jim challenged us and the grace of God inspired good people to care,” Diane said of the people who support the foundation. “He challenges me to continue to push the government to recognize the importance of all American citizens who dare to go out in the world – journalists, government workers, human rights workers, all Americans who dare to do good work in the world.”
“They deserve to be a priority. The challenge is to bring Americans home who have been unjustly held abroad. We must protect journalists, freelancers who continue to risk their lives to protect press freedoms,” she said.
The foundation will hire an executive director soon to help with their work. Just last month, the fourth annual Foley Freedom Run in Rochester drew 1,000 runners and another 600 participated virtually.
Supreme Court Society award
Last week the Foleys accepted a posthumous Life and Liberty Award on Jim’s behalf from the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society at the Supreme Court in Concord. The society focused on Jim’s role as an advocate for a free press in choosing him, according to New Hampshire Supreme Court Society trustee and past president Sherilyn Burnett Young.
“We chose Jim because in these days where freedom of the press is under siege around the world, we thought it more than fitting to give the award to a brave journalist who risked (and gave) his life to show the world the horrors of modern war,” said Burnett Young.
Jim, who had previously been held captive and released after 44 days while reporting in Libya, was described as an old-school journalist who traveled light and loved talking to the local people wherever he was.
NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, host of “Weekend Edition Sunday” and former foreign correspondent, was the keynote speaker, talking about Jim, her own experiences and the need to support journalism.
“I was thinking about the sacrifice that he was able and willing to make,” Garcia-Navarro said, “to tell the truth and go to places that were so incredibly dangerous to try and find what’s really happening no matter where the truth would lead.”
As a mother, she saluted the Foleys, praising the grace and courage they have shown in keeping Jim’s legacy alive. “It’s not easy to turn tragedy into mission,” she said.
His father, John Foley, an internist, described his son: “Jim was a truth seeker.”
“We all need to look at ourselves and say, do we have the moral courage to do the next right thing,” he said.
He talks candidly about learning more about his son’s work in a documentary “Jim: The James Foley Story,” which was directed by Jim’s close childhood friend Brian Oakes. The documentary is available on YouTube and provides an indepth look into the man through the eyes of his family and his fellow hostages.
“We discovered Jim just like the world did,” his father said in the documentary. “He was truly a man for others.”
One fellow hostage who was released spoke about living with Jim during that time. “He was really one of the pillars. I wouldn’t have survived without him,” said Didier Francois.
Jim didn’t want to be made a hero, Francois said. “He was a good man and he wanted to live as a good man and he died as one.”