WESTBROOK — It’s the beginning of the end for Jack Fogg.

The 64-year-old, a hell-raiser with a big heart, learned in April that his yearslong struggle with alcohol is killing him. He has liver cancer and it’s inoperable, his doctors told him.

“They said, ‘Oh, Jack, you’re not going to make it through this one,’ ” Fogg recalled. “I’m not going to feel good forever. I saw the pictures. They weren’t pretty.” In the five months since then, Fogg has lived with purpose and intention – determined to right some wrongs, apologize if needed, and live it up in the short time he has left.

And, soon after being told he had six months to a year left, Fogg decided to forgo treatment. His hope is to spare his family from any sadness or heartache that may come with his inevitable death. He said he didn’t want to be a burden.

Fogg also decided he wanted to buck tradition and say goodbye on his own terms.

While most families plan traditional services, such as a wake, a celebration of life, sitting shivah, to honor the passing of a loved one, some Mainers are choosing less traditional ways of handling death. And in Jack Fogg’s case, that meant being able to raise hell with his friends one more time.

“How many times have you gone to a wake or funeral and wanted to talk to the person?” Fogg said. “I think it’s the right thing to do in my life at this point. I’ve lost family and friends. I’ve been to a lot of wakes and a lot of funerals and I’ve always wanted to tell them I’m sorry I did this, or I’m sorry I didn’t do that, or I love you.”

Nontraditional endings are happening more often around the country as more people facing imminent death plan living wakes, said Joseph Kiley, president of the Maine Funeral Directors Association. But Kiley, who owns Kiley and Foley Funeral Service in Brewer and Bangor, said he has never planned a living wake, or attended one, in his nearly 30 years in the business.

“I’m sure the day is coming,” Kiley said. “There’s always new trends coming out, and this is one of them.”

As the day of his living wake approached in late August, Fogg was overcome with emotion, reliving memories of his life: his years as a star athlete at Gorham High School, his struggles with alcoholism, hitting rock bottom.

* * *

John “Jack” Fogg grew up in Gorham, the youngest of five children. In high school, he was a standout athlete on the soccer, basketball and track teams. He broke down in tears when recalling the 1970 season. He was team captain and his soccer team beat Waterville 1-0 to clinch the Class A Boys’ State Championship in 1970.

“That’s kind of cool,” he said, crying.

Fogg graduated from high school in 1971. He attended the former Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute and earned a degree in building construction. In his early years, Fogg worked as a carpenter, building houses across southern Maine.

Jack Fogg stands for a portrait at the American Legion Hall, where his friends and family gathered for a living wake on Sept. 2, 2017. Staff photo by Jill Brady

In time, Fogg picked up and moved to California. He tried out for the Los Angeles Skyhawks, a professional soccer team, but didn’t make the cut. Instead, Fogg played for the club’s practice team. He said he was kicked off the team for fighting a teammate.

At the time, Fogg was married to his second wife and had his first daughter, Danielle Dame.

Fogg said he had a rocky relationship with his second wife.

“That girl put me through hell,” he said. “I was madly in love with her. She ran off with my best friend. We had a child together. It was horrible.”

Fogg said he drank to cope with the breakup. He moved back to Maine and tried sobering up. He said he got a lawyer to get custody of his daughter, but the legal battle and distance to California put a strain on his wallet and his relationship with her.

One of his biggest regrets, he said, is not having a better relationship with his oldest daughter and grandson. “It hurts, … especially at this time in my life,” Fogg said.

For more than a decade, Fogg spent winters working as a mechanic at Kimball’s Mobil in South Windham. He was good friends with the late Leo Kimball, a beloved community leader and longtime owner of the station, who died July 2, 2006.

Fogg, a self-proclaimed softy at heart, followed Kimball’s example and got involved in service work. Fogg said he volunteered for the Maine Special Olympics and was a member the Jimmy Fund’s Southern Maine Council for more than six years. Fogg said he helped plan events such as dances and booze cruises to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He started crying again.

“It was worthwhile,” Fogg said. “I’ve had people close to me die of leukemia.”

Fogg spent another decade working at Sebago-Moc Co. in Westbrook and Bridgton. In 2003, Wolverine Worldwide bought Sebago and Fogg took a job in the Dominican Republic teaching the locals how to operate the company’s machines.

There, he met a woman with two sons and later brought her back to Maine to marry her. Fogg said the marriage ended after a couple of years. It was his third failed marriage.

Most recently, Fogg worked at Sabre Yachts in Raymond for more than a decade.

* * *

He was diagnosed with liver cancer in April. He retired on Aug. 3 to live the rest of his life as best he can.

Fogg said he knew alcohol had become a problem, but he didn’t want to quit. He said he had brief periods of sobriety but always returned to drinking.

“If I could go back, I think I would try not to drink,” Fogg said. “I did (try) that, but I didn’t like it. I wouldn’t change a damn thing, actually. At this point in my life, I am what I am. If you don’t accept me, that’s OK.”

Fogg admits he made a lot of mistakes and hurt a lot of people over the years, including himself. But in spite of himself, he said, he is loved by his family and supported by a community of friends who have rallied around him in his greatest times of need.

Though Fogg, who was once considered a legend in high school and is well-known throughout Gorham’s close-knit community, feared that only a few people might show up to his unusual living wake.

“It could be a gigantic crowd or two people,” Fogg said. “I’m a very popular person in Gorham, Maine. I’m a big fish in a small pond, I guess.”

On Aug. 27, the Maine Sunday Telegram published an announcement for a living wake and “roast” to celebrate Fogg’s life.

Jack’s sister, Mary Fogg, helped organize the untraditional event. She wanted to give her brother one last hurrah.

“I look at this as a gift for him and us,” his sister said. “None of us know how to do this, but we will show up. For Jack, it’s about the relationships, the stories and love. It’s for him to say what he wants, if he can.”

Jack Fogg shares a hug with longtime friend Valerie Bonin of Windham as friend and former teacher and coach Dean Evans of Gorham looks on at Fogg’s living wake on Sept. 2. Staff photo by Jill Brady

* * *

On Sept. 2, people flowed into the American Legion Club on Conant Street in Westbrook. More than 125 came – some raring to party and others on the verge of tears.

Much like a traditional wake, there were pictures of Fogg stuck to poster boards, along with framed pictures and family memorabilia. Nearly all who attended were drinking, including Jack.

Fogg spent the afternoon reminiscing, joking, laughing and drinking.

“I’m impressed,” Fogg said about an hour in. “I know I had friends and family. This is kind of cool. I was kind of hoping for something like this. This is a roast. God only knows what’s going to happen to me.”

Fogg grabbed the microphone after several drinks of Jim Beam and ginger ale. He stood in front of the boisterous crowd of friends and family to say a few words.

“So, thank you for showing up,” Fogg said, generating cheers from the crowd. “I wish it was better things to show up for. How many times do you go to a wake or funeral and want to say something, but they’re already gone? You don’t get a chance. So this is your chance. You got something to say, bring it on.”

“Can you tell us a joke?” someone from the crowd yelled to Fogg, who let out a mischievous laugh. “There’s a couple of kids here.”

Instead, he sang an inappropriate song, spelling the swear words. “And I tried to clean that up,” Fogg said.

* * *

One by one, family and friends walked to the front of the hall to take the microphone and share their fondest and funniest memories of Fogg.

“In some circles, this guy is known as Mad Dog Jack Fogg,” said Walter Ridlon, Fogg’s basketball and track coach at Gorham High School. “But in my world, he is known as marvelous Jack Fogg. … This guy here would do anything I asked of him. For instance, I asked him if he ever tried to pole-vault. Jack said, ‘No, but I will.’ I asked, ‘Have you ever tried high jumping?’ Jack said, ‘No, but I will.’ The year he was a senior, Jack qualified for the New Englands in high jump and pole vault. So when I think of this gentleman, I think of him as a marvelous person who taught me the importance of working with kids, … young kids with a heart who always wanted to improve and be the best.”

His sister-in-law, Vicki Fogg, stepped up to the microphone, and Fogg wrapped one arm around her while holding a beer in his other hand.

She said Fogg showed up at her house one night in high school and they played her 45 rpm records. She said he started flipping through the records and made a mess on the floor. In walked Vicki Fogg’s mother, who scolded him and told him to pick up the records. When Fogg left, she got in trouble with her mother.

“My mother is why I am here,” she said, laughing. “She had a name for him.”

Fogg interrupted. “It wasn’t a good one.”

She cursed at Fogg before walking back to her seat, grinning from ear to ear.

“She crucified me for years,” Fogg said. “I’m sorry I did such things, but that’s me. I’ve never been perfect and I never claimed to be perfect.”

Throughout Fogg’s wake, he laughed and bantered with people. He shared stories from his past, sang songs and told jokes.

“He’s smiling, so this is good,” said his 25-year-old daughter, Ember Fogg of Gorham. “He’s having a good time. It’s all that matters.”

* * *

Many who attended Fogg’s wake said they were glad to be able to see him and talk to him before he’s gone. It also was clear that some guests were uncomfortable with the idea of a living wake, and many had a complicated mix of emotions.

His sister, Gail Fogg-LeBlanc of Gorham, cried off and on throughout the afternoon. When people started to show up, she cried. The more people came, the more she cried, she said.

“I can’t imagine life without him,” she said, sobbing. “He’s having a good time, so that’s what matters. This is what he wanted. God bless him.”

Mike Proulx, Fogg’s ex-brother-in-law, said was he was initially skeptical of the idea of a living wake.

“It’s a little strange,” Proulx said. “I’m not used to seeing someone off that’s still here. It’s a different sensation. I’m embracing it more and more. Jack is so upbeat all the time, so not everyone is walking around with their head down. Jack’s a pissah. He’s a ball of fire and he’s going to be until he goes.”

The moment was bittersweet, said Bonnie Miller of Windham, who has known Jack since she was 18 years old.

“It fits Jack and I’m glad he’s doing this because he has a lot of friends,” Miller said. “I think it’s nice to see people when they are happy and well, but it’s also very hard.”

Dolly Mannette of Windham agreed.

“I think this is wonderful,” said Mannette, who works at Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern in Gorham, where Fogg is a regular. “A lot of people don’t get the chance to say goodbye to someone. It’s hard though. I went outside a couple of times and teared up over it. At least you get a chance to say what you want to say.”

He accepted the roasting from his friends in good humor. But it was Fogg who got the last laugh.

At the end of his roast, he dropped his pants and in perfect Jack Fogg character, mooned the guests at his own wake.

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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