When Joe Fook first started selling Megaphone last year, he would often come rushing into the office, flushed yet focused, to explain how his sales were going and whatever else was on his mind. He might leave before you got a word in edgewise. It was as if you had been blindsided by a mini-hurricane.
Joe was always very determined—whether with his Megaphone sales or the people he cared about. Although his gruffness took a little getting used to, once you got him to sit down for a second, it became quickly apparent what a humourous and generous person he was.
And his gruffness became his charm. When Megaphone asked him to be the cover model for our Olympics Commemorative Issue (see picture), he played along. And although it took two long shoots and a lot of directing, he never complained; not once. In fact, he thanked us.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Joe had had a difficult past—one that involved heroin addiction and eight years in prison. But once released, he worked hard to get clean and stay out of trouble. And, despite a few setbacks, he succeeded.
“He was very resilient, no matter what happened to him,” says Judy Fook, his ex-wife. “He had a lot of ups and downs, but he always managed to get back up—positive, smiling.”
Because of his own struggles, Joe believed in Megaphone’s mission and worked hard to get the message out to the rest of the city about why people were struggling in the Downtown Eastside.
“People need to try and understand that a lot of the drug use down here is because people live in such poverty,” he said when interviewed for his vendor profile last January. “Getting high takes away their problems for a few minutes. To help people get clean you gotta have a program that educates, houses and feeds them … you gotta give them some hope.”
Joe was a natural salesman—a job he had most of his life. At one time or another he sold knives, waterless cookware, meat and pop. His experience, charm and determination quickly made him one of Megaphone’s top sellers. While always the consummate salesman, the only thing he loved more than selling was giving.
“He was very generous person,” says Judy. “I think he would have been the number one salesman in everything he did except he sometimes gave away more than he sold. He’d come by my mom’s place and give her meat and she’d say,‘No, this is what you’re selling.’ But he’d insist she should take it.”
Unlike most vendors, who usually sell the magazine by standing on one street corner, Joe liked to walk around downtown Vancouver—usually at nights when he felt people were more relaxed and in the mood to talk. He developed strong relationships with many of his regular customers.
When Joe was diagnosed with double lung cancer this spring, he was given just a few weeks to live. The news hit him hard, but he never gave up. He moved into the Downtown Eastside’s Pennsylvania Hotel, where PHS Community Services Society runs a palliative care centre on the second floor. He quickly made a strong impression on the staff.
“He was so sweet and had such a good sense of humour,” says Emma Wolchok, a case worker at the centre. “He was really genuine and we all felt like we were in it with him. We would talk to him about dying and it would be traumatic. We had a lot of special moments together.”
But even as he got sicker and his voice started to go, Joe continued to sell Megaphone—going out in between chemotherapy treatments when he had enough strength and energy. We would often try to talk him out of selling, but he’d tell us: “I like selling Megaphone. It makes me feel better.”
Before he passed away, he was able to visit with his daughter, Jessica, whom he loved deeply, and meet his grandson, Damien, whose picture hung on his wall.
Joe remained determined and charming until the very end. He will be deeply missed by the Megaphone staff, vendors and his customers.
Photo by Jacob Hopkins