Our friend, Vinnie

June 19, 2013

Embracing Life

Vince and Lysa Flynn in Cabo

Vince and Lysa Flynn in Cabo

Vince Flynn was calling his next book The Survivor. He got the idea for this title while on a trip to Cabo in February. A friend, Roberto, made him a cake (with the aid of his minions) that looked like a book. “Survivor Man” was written along the bottom on edible paper. He took a look at that dessert and said, “Wow, that would be a great title for my novel!” That vacation was the last time Vinnie felt well enough to walk around much. In fact, he even made it to a beach located a few resorts away to watch his girls swimming like mermaids in the Sea of Cortez. But even though his strength began to diminish, the act of surviving remained paramount on the novelist’s mind until the final chapter of his life.

In November of 2010 Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer. He passed away at 2:00 AM on June 19 surrounded by about 35 family members and friends. My husband and I were honored to be there. His wife had been a patient Nurse Nightingale by his side for the last two and a half years, and of course she was there when he took his last breath, too. He fought to live,  just like the CIA operatives did in the stories he created. He was brave and courageous,  just  like the characters were within his fictional pieces.

The past two years his close buddy, Tom Tracy, organized a “Movember” team called “Mitch Rapp and the Killer Mustaches.” Their efforts–which included growing facial hair–raised $80,000 for prostate cancer awareness and cure. We all wish a cure would have come soon enough for our friend, Vinnie.

He is in a better place now; in a Heavenly Paradise–not the palm tree and sand type of paradise like his favorite spot in Mexico, but the place we all strive to go to when it is our time: our eternal home. But we wish his health would have improved and that he would have been a “Survivor Man.” We wish he could have finished that last novel, and many other Mitch Rapp stories.

Some memories

My husband, Eric, and I have known the Flynns for years. I used to work with Vinnie’s wife, Lysa, in the fashion industry during our younger days. Eric went to high school with the future author at St. Thomas Academy, where, for the last few years, Vince sat on the board. I didn’t go to high school with Vinnie (It’s all-male), but I did meet him for the first time when one of his friends, Nick Flood, asked me to their military ball. A few years later, we were students together at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota (now the University of St. Thomas). One of my favorite memories of Vince occurred when I’d spot him in Murray Hall wearing his football jacket. An entourage surrounded him–always. Especially a harem of co-eds fluttering their eyelids. But because he was such a people-person, Vince always had time for the other folks walking by, too. “Hi, Steveken,” and “How are you, McFadden?” or “Hello Fr. Malone” could be heard between classes. His magnetic personality was one trait that made him successful, I’m sure.

Mary Ann Grossmann, book critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, once told me that when Vince Flynn first became famous, women flocked to his book signings because this new author was eye candy. But this attention never went to his head, and thankfully, God blessed him with brains to go with that brawn, too. I recently told him: “Vinnie, I have a confession. I was a Doubting Thomas. Eric and I used to go to O’Gara’s and see you tending bar and I’d say, ‘Whatever happened to Vinnie? He was such a smart guy. He had a great job after college–which he quit–and now he’s pouring drinks and supposedly writing a book.’ ” (Of course when I said writing a book I made quotation marks with my fingers in ridicule.) Vince laughed so hard when I admitted this lapse of faith in him. “You weren’t the only one, Kathy. Others have told me the same thing.” But I was frustrated with myself for doubting his abilities, especially since my mom–who is a writer–was always pulling for him. When he self-published his first novel Term Limits in 1997,  my mother (who knew Vince through the O’Gara family) was so proud of him for following his dreams and being triumphant. And now– “dontcha know”–he has 14 novels on the New York Times Best Seller List.

She didn’t, but my mom could have said to me, “See, I told you so.”

And eventually, over wine with our spouses in his cigar room, I told him, “I’m so proud of you Vinnie. Not only for being a successful writer, but for being a successful husband and father, too.” I’m so glad, now, that I told him that.

Growing up in a big family

Another reason for the novelist’s success was that he grew up in a creative family that liked to tell stories. Knowing that I dabble in writing he once told me: “Kathy, you’re so lucky to have a big, extended family. I’ve sat and listened to your McMahon uncles, and nobody can spin a tale like they can. That’s a gift that they gave you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if my family hadn’t shared their narratives.”

There were seven kids in the Flynn household. Their father, Terry, was a teacher and coach at St. Thomas Academy when the snappers were young. Their mother, Kathleen, has always been an incredible artist of wildlife–especially of water fowl, earning her the nickname, “Grandma Duck.” (She was named Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year in the past.) Vince liked to discuss his family’s gift of Irish gab, saying that they would often discuss politics, current events and history–fueling little Vinnie’s interest in these topics. Quite often their dinner-time storytelling would get rambunctious, with fistfights and tears.Vince would refer to their childhood squabbles as “The Fightin’ Irish episodes.” His longtime buddy, Brian Kruse, (who helped sell Vince’s first book out of the trunk of his car) said that Vince was excellent at debating. “He honed in on this craft because he’d had lots of practice collecting facts to present to his family during their opposing arguments.” This is definitely a gift which he was able to carry into his writing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, too. Vince was always stubborn, and he loved to be right.

A family man

Before Vince Flynn became a household name, he married a small-town girl from northern Minnesota. (They were introduced by news anchors Frank Vascillaro and Amelia Santaniello.) I love what the author wrote about his “Honey” (as he called her) in the acknowledgments of The Last Man:

“To my darling wife, Lysa, who has always been wise beyond her years, thank you for giving me some of that wisdom when I really needed it. Now if I could just get some of that grace from you, I’d really have things moving in the right direction. You are my favorite thing about life.”

When that book came out, I told Vinnie that he’d better be careful, because what he wrote about his wife was so beautiful that the publishers were going to start listing his thrillers as romance novels.

During one of our dinners together, Vinnie told Eric and me, “Whenever I’m on the road and I think women are getting a little flirty with me, I just flash my wedding band.” He had no tolerance for infidelity and treasured his beautiful marriage. In all the years I knew him he only had lovely things to say about his wife.

Every Thursday was date night; usually at their favorite restaurant in Mendota for a Bloody Mary and crab cakes. Everyone knew them there, they were like Norm in Cheers.

The Flynns have three children between the ages of 10 and 17. Our old friendship was re-ignited when our kids started doing things together after they moved from a Minneapolis suburb to “the better side of the river.” (For those of you who don’t know, the Twin Cities have a playful rivalry.) Our families and other friends have enjoyed many great times together, including storytelling of our own, in a pub that was built in our basement. During grace we would often recite an Irish saying for Vince: “May you live to be old and gray and comb the hair of your children’s children.” How we wish this would have come to fruition.

 Man of faith

A friend of the Flynns, Fr. Peter Laird (who went to college with Vince), said that there were always two things in Vinnie’s hands: his phone and his ring rosary. Father added, “One was used to communicate with people on Earth, and one was used to communicate with God in Heaven.” He then stated that a copy of the Magnificat prayer book was always near his side.

The Flynns are members of St. Joseph’s in West St. Paul. Vince was a fixture in the pews quite often for the all-school Masses on Fridays. He’d sit right in between his girls. Often, he’d discuss with family and friends what he heard in Fr. Creagan’s great homilies or those delivered by other priests.

Vince loved his Catholic faith, even though he was a Type-A and got anxious if Masses ran too long. After he was diagnosed, his family often stood in the back of church with our big clan. Often, he would help us chase around our toddling twins or just hold them in order to give us a break. That’s the kind of guy he was.

He and Lysa give generously to the church and Catholic schools. He wrote this in the acknowledgments of Kill Shot:

“To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel and St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes, thank you.”

Vince and his wife are very pro-life. In fact, recently he donated a dinner with himself and former NFL player, Matt Birk, for the Wakota Lifecare Center. In one of his books he bravely condemns partial-birth abortion. (See the blog) He debated this issue well in a secular context, trying to enlighten readers to the importance of respecting the unborn.

We once heard him tell someone, “If you just stepped foot into a Catholic church you wouldn’t have so much anxiety.” Because Vince embraced his faith, he didn’t have any fear about dying. But as Father Laird said at Vince’s deathbed, “He just didn’t want to go so soon.”

I will close this article with Vinnie’s favorite saying: “Keep the faith!”

We miss you already, Vinnie. Thank you for the gift of your friendship, laughter and stories.

, ,

About Kathy Schneeman

After graduating from The College of St. Thomas, I taught at Nativity in St. Paul until our oldest was just about born in the classroom (What a great lesson on life that would have been for my students!) I then became a stay-at-home-mom while teaching religious education classes and working very part time at UST. Recently, I served as the Archdiocese's Life Coordinator in the Office for Marriage, Family and Life until twins arrived (I was almost 43!) When I have a few minutes of quiet time, I like to run, eat chocolates, scones and Mexican food (that's why I run), read, and have a beverage with my husband at night. We have a whopping nine kids (yes...same husband and same wife; we get that question a lot!) and we attend St. Joseph's in West St. Paul--where we first met when we were in grade school.

View all posts by Kathy Schneeman
  • Sharon Wilson -

    This is so sad. I am sorry for the loss not only to his family, friends and fans but to our world and culture as a whole. His novels touched many because of his great writing skill and ability to entertain but underlying in his novels is a theme that reflects his personal morality and beliefs on life issues and on faith. More entertainers, artists and writers are needed to profess the message of life not in a direct, in your face kind of way, but through the use of their talant and through story telling. Thank you Kathy for writing this and sharing your relationship with Vince. He will be missed.

  • Lisa Blumb Stordahl

    Beautiful Kathy…absolutely perfect…thank you for sharing it

  • Daniel Palmer

    Thank you for this wonderful piece! We lost this fine man and author too soon.

  • Anthony

    Thank you very much for sharing this.

  • K.Smith

    Vince Flynn was my favorite author and I was in awe of his talent since I picked up Term Limits for the first time. I went the the sister school of his HS and the same college and don’t live far from his families current home – I have followed his literary journey through Mitch Rapp and his many adventures. It is truly a sad day. I was looking forward to this article to read more about his journey from ideas to best sellers, but rather I was left feeling very uncomfortable after reading this. It seemed the author talked more about their relationship with Vince, and how she fit into his story, rather than just telling his story. She shares some very intimate moments that seem they should have been kept that way. Vince was a private man when it came to his personal life and to just be putting such private details out there such as where they go to church and the moments before his death just seem so distasteful. I had and still have the utmost respect for such a talented writer and am keeping him and his family in my prayers. This article saddens me, as I said, I wish the author would have given a story about how he rose to where he is in his success without the littering of how he is her claim to fame. Shame on her, it is time to give his family peace and respect their privacy.

    • chuck

      Great writter…great person

    • vahillbilly4

      Kathy gives insight to the real man Vince Flynn was. I thank her for sharing those thoughts.

  • Dave Jones

    I hope this man knew Jesus Christ personally and had received his forgiveness, mercy and his righteousness as payment for his SIN. Sadly you do not get to Heaven by being catholic or doing good deeds. Only the Blood of Christ can pay the penalty for SIN. Only Jesus Saves from Death. When reading your section on a man of faith there was no mention of GOD and the sacrifice he made giving the LIFE of His only child. Sorry for your loss

    • PaulHaverstock

      Dave, you raise an important point. As a practicing Catholic, this man not only knew Jesus personally, since he also met Him personally every time he went to Mass or the Adoration chapel. (see John 6:22-71)

      Could I recommend a story to you that affected my view of the Catholic Church? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrQN8LHYg5g?

      In Christ our Savior,
      Paul Haverstock

      Seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis

      • Anita Norman Malone

        Hi Paul – your link doesn’t work :( I would love to see the video; please post another link!

        RIP Vince Flynn — you will be greatly missed… May our loving Father comfort and console his beautiful family until they are together again in Heaven.

        • PaulHaverstock

          Hi Anita,

          Thanks for the heads up. Hopefully this will work…

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrQN8LHYg5g

          In Christ,
          Paul

          • Anita Norman Malone

            Ah, yes… the amazing Scott Hahn! He was instrumental in my “reversion” as a cradle Catholic. What a wonderful testimony to anyone who has questions about our faith!

            God bless you :)

    • vahillbilly4

      Catholics do understand what it means to be a child of God and we acknowledge his true presence when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist.
      We are also aware of the sacrifice he made for us dying on the cross so that we can live. The letter of James talks about faith without good deeds/works….. For faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead (James 2:17). The test of whether we really have faith, James continues, will be in the works that we do.

    • Guest

      I don’t think you are in any position to be the judge as to whether Vince Flynn knew Jesus Christ personally.

      • Dave Jones

        You will want to read my comment again and apply reading comprehension as you read then you might understand. I am not judging anyone. Just stating the facts.

        • Guest

          I completely understood it. My reading comprehension is excellent.

  • Dan Minton

    Thanks for sharing this with all of us, Kathy. Vince was my favorite. When I get fed up with all the Washington blowhards, I say; ” I wish I could send in my man, Mitch Rapp, to have a chat with that (fill in the blank).

    May Vince be touching the face of God and may God give his family and friends the strength to carry on.

  • Patti D.

    This is just so sad. Vince was my husband’s favorite author. As a matter of fact, I just gave my husband a first edition hardcover copy of one of Vince Flynn’s books for his birthday in April. Thank you for writing such a beautiful article. Your article has helped us know a favorite author not just as a writer, but as a man. He was a gem. God rest his soul.

  • Pat Comley

    The world lost a great man and author. For those of us still unpublished writers, Vince was a great inspiration. God bless his family.

  • Dana Keller

    Sending prayers . May he rest in peace. Great guy.

  • Mary C.

    What a beautiful post. I am a St. Paulite and Tommie graduate (around the same year as Vince) and I enjoy reading his books. I loved listening to Vince being interviewed on various radio programs – he always seemed like a “nice guy” and had a great oulook in life. I pray that God will send the comfort his family will need to get through this. I know he will be terribly missed by so many.

  • Kathleen

    What a beautiful tribute. Thank you so much, Kathy! I was completely stunned when I heard the news this morning. Vince was, and always will be, my favorite author, bar none (I have all of his books, met him once at a book signing, and have turned others into Vince Flynn fans.). I’m a lifelong Minnesotan, and I never heard one negative word about him. It was nothing but great things, for a tremendous author and man of faith, family, and friends. It was fascinating (and sometimes funny) to hear him talk on the radio, tv, and at the book signing. I’m deeply saddened at the loss of this wonderful man. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. May Vince rest in peace.

  • Matt D, big Flynn fan

    So sorry to read this news this morning. I loved Mr. Flynn’s work, and tried meeting him several times, but could never make my schedule work to get to a book signing. Sad I will not have the chance now.

    Just wondering…I got the impression from his posts on his personal webpage that he was fighting the good fight, and winning. Did he not share the gravity of his situation publicly? I was stunned to read this today.

    Rest in peace Vince. You brought be a lot of joy reading your works over the last few years, and I’ll continue to read through them time and time again (part way through the series for the third time now), with a little sadness each time that you departed this world far too early.

  • Paul DeGance

    I knew when I started reading Vince Flynn that he “got it”. Definitely a sad day but knowing he valued his faith and thought of his Adoration Chapel as a place of beauty, I know he is with our Lord…truly a great Catholic example.

  • A fan.

    He will be missed <3

  • Tim

    Beautiful tribute to an outstanding author who was an outstanding man.

  • Msgr. Dennis

    A fitting tribute to a good man, one who has given many of us hours of entertainment — and things to really think about. He and his family are very much in my thoughts and prayers

  • Terry Schissel

    My deepest sympathy to his wife and family, I am so very very sorry for the loss of such a brilliant writer…God Bless

  • jjriolo

    When I heard the words Vince Flynn on the news, I felt sad. Knew it must be bad news.
    I have followed Vince since “Term Limits” , he has always been my idol, writing “Faction”.

  • http://www.alexmn.com/ Craig Mische

    Thank you for this Kathy. I learned of Vinnie’s passing via a tweet from WCCO this morning and it hit me hard. The work day separated me from the news but tonight is different.

  • Jason

    I just started reading Vince’s books, under a year ago. I was introduced to “Mitch Rapp” in an interesting way. In the back of our church, in Fairfield, CT, there is a table with a seemingly endless supply of books available for a small donation. The books are part of a collection from a wonderful priest who himself recently passed on. Among his collection are several of Vince’s books, which I now own. I’ve enjoyed the books that I’ve read, and as I am now learning more about Vince, I have learned what a great person he was while he was here, in addition to being a great author. To his family, friends, and other fans: you’re in our prayers, as is Vince.

  • Tom King

    What a wonderful tribute, Kathy. Thanks for sharing these stories about one of my favorite authors, ever. A friend of mine told me this today about Vince, “It takes him a year to write one of those great books of his, and I read it cover to cover in less than 2 days. 363 more is a long time to wait.” Tom King, W. St. Paul

  • vahillbilly4

    After reading this wonderful eulogy of Kathy’s I wanted to say some things. We did not know Vince personally but like so many were turned on to his books and untimately to the author as well. In this time of so many trials with our faith being challenged on a daily basis I am so grateful to know about Vince’s strong Catholic faith. As a Catholic, who also treasures her faith, it gives me comfort to know how strong and willing to speak out Vince was in these days when faith is fleeting and pulled out and used when necessary and so easily mocked and discarded.
    I know that he shares full communion with our loving God and Savior in his glorious heavenly home. I am sure he is telling a wonderful story right now.
    I pray that God will give his peace and comfort to Lysa and the kids and all who cared and loved Vince will feel the healing touch of God. Put in a good word for me Vince+
    Sincerely, Marsha Tandy

  • Dave Hopkinson

    Kathy, Thank you for writing the wonderful tribute to Vince. You perfectly captured his personality. He was a great guy and a great family man.

    • Andrea paddock

      I didn’t know Vince Flynn personally, just through his wonderful books, but when I heard about his death yesterday, I actually cried! We need more Vice Flynns in this world to help us appreciate the wonderful world, life, and country God gave us. My heart goes out to the Flynn family

      Andrea Paddock

  • William R. Barker

    I’m crying as I type. Vince Flynn’s death is devastating. It’s like a kick in the stomach. No… I didn’t know Vince Flynn; don’t know his wife… don’t know his kids… don’t know you, Kathy. But I know Mitch Rapp. I know the vision of the man who wrote Term Limits. I know that America is a poorer place today than it was on Tuesday, Vince Flynn’s last full day on earth. I feel that a friend has died… I know that one of my heroes has died. I’m angry at God. I know that He can’t be willy-nilly intervening in human affairs. He made us mortal with all that this entails. But, still… God DOES intervene at times; why not this time? America needed Vince Flynn. Mr. Flynn’s passing strikes me as yet another nail in the coffin of the American Dream… the American Experiment. Thank you for writing what you have, Kathy. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Flynn’s family and friends… and to all who saw in his vision of America the America our Founders meant us to safeguard.

  • Sherry Rodgers

    Thank you for this beautiful article. I really enjoyed reading about him through your eyes. I didn’t know Vince Flynn personally but felt I got to know him through his books and his monthly emails to his readers. I echo the sentiment of so many of these comments. His death hit me hard yesterday and makes me so sad. I am praying for his family. RIP Vince – you will be sorely missed.

  • Kristi Erickson Kampmeyer

    Kathy what a touching article. Vince, forever loved, always remembered.

  • Sean Mooney

    thanks Kathy for a beautiful story and tribute. More than one tear shed while reading your story and remembering Vince. I am also proud to see two of my Tommie classmates outwardly promoting Catholic values.

  • Louis Hall

    Well written and thanks for the personal connections and memories of UST. He and his family has been in our family’s prayers, especially our soccer kids. Although we wish and prayed he could be here longer for his kids, family and friends we accept it with deep sadness, trust and hope. Hope: that if we remain close to God, we will be reunited with our holy loved ones. Hard to fully understand…. but compared to eternity with God… life on earth is short whether we live 90 years, 3 years or 47 years.

  • Nneka

    Thank you for sharing that. I can’t imagine how you must feel. I feel devastated and I only knew Vince Flynn just from reading his books. May his gentle and kind soul rest in peace amen.

  • Denmark

    Wow! What a man, Father and husband. I wanted to know more about this author so I googled his name, but was very uncomfortable with the parts you wrote, like the scene at his deathbed and his detailed religious beliefs. I also know what his grieving wife looks like, because you shared a photo. Are you the family spokes woman? Have you asked his family how he feels about you sharing it all? This is not a tiny Minnesota town here on the internet. This is London, Denmark, Russia, New York City etc. Basically it’s the world. You took it upon yourself (unless they asked you too) to put yourself right in the spotlight. Will you have your pen and notepad at his funeral too?

    If I were the Flynn family I would not let you in my house again.

    It is very obvious you took the spotlight here. There is a big family grieving the loss of a brother, son, husband and father. You seem to be more of a modern day Mrs. Kravitz than a true friend.

  • Duane Lawrence

    Thank you for sharing this Kathy. I didn’t know Vince but the picture you have painted brings him into clear view. A wonderful role model and inspiration even from here in Europe. I’m terribly sorry for your loss and that of his family.

  • Karen

    very sorry to read. a favorite author of mine.God bless your family