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.
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.