In Memoriam: Valerie Fons (1951-2022)

She became my sister-in-law when I was 21, my ex-sister-in-law when I divorced her brother at age 39.

She remained my friend, championed my pursuits, cheered my successes, told me (when I was my family of four’s sole financial support) that if she ever had kids she wanted to be a mother just like me.

She was an athlete, kayaking the Baja, the Mississippi, the Amazon, and other waterways, clocking over 30,000 miles in a boat.

She was a quilter.

She became an ordained Methodist minister. She and her final husband adopted six kids out of foster care and raised them to adulthood.

She was my writing partner, my thought-partner, my editor and believer.

On Washington Island, she was my neighbor.

She was my oldest friend.

Lying in semidarkness on my yoga mat months after Valerie’s death, I heard my teacher say she would read a poem titled CANOE. I heard my friend’s voice in every word. I tracked down the poet, corresponded with her, told her about Valerie’s amazing, adventurous life.

Recently, I was asked by Valerie’s children to speak at her memorial service. Luckily, I had CANOE.

CANOE by Joanne M. Clarkson 2021 (used with permission)

The waxing crescent casts a tiny canoe on the water.

She is empty, enlivened by breezy waves.

I swim out into the midnight lake and climb within her nacre.

I take up a paddle painted with images of fish and birds.

She carries me into a perfect shadow.

Mayflies or snowflakes in starlight surround us.

I face fear and joy in equal measure, my honest life.

And in a minute or a month, when I return to shore,

All that needs to heal lies behind me in a wake.

And she sails off toward wholeness carrying the weight of my dreams.


12 Responses

  1. Rita Parrish
    | Reply

    This is beautiful! A life well lived, and well remembered.

  2. Linda K Duff
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    What an amazing tribute to someone who was obviously an amazing woman and one who meant to much to you. What a great friend and supporter she was to you through all the years. Remember, she’ll never be lost to you, Marianne; she’s in your heart and all your memories. May thoughts of her make you smile and bring you comfort.
    In sympathy and friendship …. Linda

  3. glendagai
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    Such a word picture !

  4. Judith Reel
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    So sorry for the loss of your beloved and talanted friend! Such a lovely bond you shared
    all the time together … great memories for sure. Loved the Poem, Canoe!

    Judy Reel

  5. Jim Graham
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    Thank you for that perfect tribute to Valerie. We all need a Canoe (like that of the poem).

  6. Stephanie
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    Best friends come along too seldom in life. Thanks for the beautiful share. Inspired to call my bestie this evening 🙂

  7. Liza Wiemer
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    Such a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing. Although I only met her a few times, she had an incredible presence, one that left its mark on those who had the opportunity to connect with her!

  8. Elizabeth Rivera
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    I am so sorry for your loss, when theses things happen we need time to process and grieve. You have had many adventures and friends that will be with you forever.

  9. Diane
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    So sorry for the lost of your friend. Savor the memories.

  10. Sue Schneider
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    What a beautiful tribute!

  11. Patricia Steckman
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    It seems I remember a saying from long ago about starting a journey in a canoe – “paddles up” – to start the journey/adventure. Very true in her case. Blessings.

  12. Lynda Griffith
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    I’m sorry to learn of Valerie’s passing. She was quite an adventurer. I met her in the 1980’s when I spoke at a health fair hosted by her church in north Seattle. I was racing flatwater kayak and marathon canoe at Seattle Canoe Club and not long after Valerie began frequenting the boat house Green Lake. One day I got a call from Valerie. She was upset because a man she had agreed to paddle with in an upcoming canoe race had yelled at her because she was not doing what she was supposed to do in the bow. We talked for a while about her “job” as a bow paddler. She was impatient to learn right away because she was scheduled to meet the man for a workout later the same afternoon. So I asked her get a cereal bowl filled with water and a spoon and we talked through a bow stroke, a sweep stroke, and a draw stroke. She practiced the strokes, with the spoon as her paddle, in the bowl of water. Come time for the race, Valerie did just fine. It was not long after that she met Verlen Kruger as he and his son-in-law came through Seattle on the way to Baja. I think Valerie never looked back!! RIP Valerie.

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