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The smile beneath his silvery push-broom mustache swept across James Foley’s 80th birthday face. One could suppose it was the result of sitting poolside at his Fallsington home as the warmth of the day was being matched by that of a loving wife, doting children and precious grandchildren.

On the other hand, when a sports-car-loving man, whose life nearly encountered the ultimate stop sign a few years earlier, shuffles on unsteady legs supported by a walker and spots a blazing orange 2020 Corvette in the driveway, well, that’ll slap a smile on a guy’s mug every time.

“He came into the garage, looked out at the driveway, saw the ’Vette, and went, ‘Wow!’” said Elizabeth Shackleton, his daughter. “My brother, Jimmy, my sister, Heather, and I went in on renting it for dad for the weekend. He had to sell the other ‘Vettes he’s had. He’s wanted to buy another Corvette for a while, but mom says no, that this is not the right time.

On his 80th birthday, the family of stroke victim James Foley, of Fallsington, rented him a Corvette to tool around in for the weekend. Jim is pictured with his wife, Shirley.

“We thought this was the next best thing.”

A family rents a sports car for their dear ol’ dad to tool around in on his birthday weekend. A Chevy chasing past memories of the road on the road. So, what’s so special about that? Families do nice things for fathers on their birthdays all the time. What’s the biggie, you might be inclined to ask?

Well, on Oct. 4, 2012, there were no guarantees of next birthdays, or next months or weeks, or perhaps hours for Jim Foley. The only race for this sports car lover that day was the one to try to save his life.

“I worked redesigning phone systems, and was working that day at Liberty State Park, near the Statue of Liberty,” Foley recalled. “I drove home and felt OK. But then I sat down at my computer and started to feel funny. After I went to the bathroom, I went back to my computer. That’s when it happened.”

“It” was a stroke. Somehow, he still had the ability to use his cellphone to call 9-1-1. He was rushed to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Middletown. He was alive. Barely.

“When I got to the hospital, he was in bad shape,” said his wife, Shirley. “He had a bleed in the brain, a cerebral hemorrhage, that could be fatal. But they caught it quick. Then during that time, he had a pulmonary embolism; it’s like a heart attack of the lung. His blood pressure was, like, 294 over something. He was lucky to still be alive.”

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On a day when he was behind the wheel again, Foley recalled those uncertain moments he was behind the 8-ball. When a man’s mortality taps him hard on the shoulder, the important things in life step to the fore: Family and his future.

“I was in the hospital 30 days,” Foley said. “You’re getting time to get better. But you also have time to think about life. You think about your kids and grandkids and … ”

Foley fell silent on the phone.

“And I have the best wife in the world,” he said.

For standing by his side. And for sitting by his side in the car of his dreams on a birthday weekend that was never guaranteed. And for a million and two other reasons.

“He’s been through so much,” Shirley said, referring to his stroke, and back surgery three years later after an automobile accident. “He deserved this. He’s still on Cloud 9. This was the best kind of present for him.”

On the day after he turned 80, after friends gave him a drive-by birthday celebration, Foley tossed aside his walker and his worries. Slid into the black leather seat behind the wheel of the ’Vette, turned the key, and turned back the clock. He drove nearly 200 miles over the weekend, all over Bucks County, to Bowman’s Tavern in New Hope for dinner, and toured his native New Jersey.

“I wanted to show it off,” Foley said. “I went to a lot of friends’ homes. Four hundred ninety horsepower. Wow!”

With a top speed of 184 mph, just how fast did Foley push it?

“Um, only 72,” he said, disappointedly. “Shirley said no faster.”

Best wives in the world, the ones who stand by you and sit beside you, are like that.

Columnist Phil Gianficaro can be reached at 215-345-3078, [email protected], and @philgianficaro on Twitter.