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Remembering Chuck Flaum, a man who got things done


Chuck Flaum was a man who got things done.

MICHELLE FLAUM: He wanted to become a pilot, so he got his pilot's license. He wanted to build a company, and so he built a very large and very successful company here in southwestern Ohio.


And it seemed like Flaum could do anything.

FLAUM: He was an inventor. He was an entrepreneur. He was an expert chef and a musician. And I mean, he was such a renaissance man.

SUMMERS: Since the pandemic began, we've been remembering some of the nearly 1 million people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. And we've asked you to share their stories with us.

SHAPIRO: Today, we remember Charles Flaum. He died last September in Springburn, Ohio. His granddaughter, Michelle Flaum, says from a young age, she was in awe of him, but still he had some very human blind spots.

FLAUM: He was very much kind of a '50s era - you know, think kind of "Mad Men" in some respects. Sometimes could be, it seemed to me, kind of devaluing of women. Their role was, you know, to be wives and mothers and home - I mean, very '50s, you know, in that respect. And from a very young age, I didn't like that.

SUMMERS: Rather than take him to task, Michelle spent her life proving her grandfather wrong. She's currently a therapist and a professor, and she's written a book.

SHAPIRO: Seventeen years ago, Michelle nearly died giving birth to her daughter, and it was during this traumatic time that Charles Flaum seemed to come around.

FLAUM: He said, Michelle, of everyone in this family, he said, I'm glad this happened to you. And I kind of looked at him sideways like, uh (ph). And then I realized, you know, because he said, because no one else could have survived this. And at that moment, you know, he gave me this look. And there have been looks that he's given me over the course of many, many years that, you know, just have suggested that he really kind of has not only seen me for who I am and who I've become, but that he has revised, you know, some of these early beliefs about women.

SUMMERS: And last September, Michelle got to see her grandfather for who he was. A month after he caught COVID, the 94-year-old knew he was dying. He set aside 2 hours for a last visit with Michelle, who wasn't sure what to expect.

FLAUM: I was expecting kind of vintage grandpa, you know, barking out orders and a little bit gruff at times and kind of enigmatic at times and hard to read.

SHAPIRO: But it was the complete opposite.

FLAUM: He put out his hand immediately, and he wanted to hold my hand, which - this was not a grandfather that was a hand holder.

SUMMERS: For 2 hours, they held hands and talked about their lives.

FLAUM: He told me about buying Neil Armstrong a drink and told me about, you know, meeting and shaking hands with Frank Lloyd Wright. I mean, these are, you know, some of his heroes, and he was so proud.

SHAPIRO: True to his can-do nature, her grandfather had a plan, even at the end. His final wish was to die at home instead of in the hospital, so he spent his last week weaning himself off of oxygen so he could survive being transported back. A day or so after he got home, Flaum died.

FLAUM: It was pretty phenomenal. And at the same time, there was no part of me that was surprised that he made it home because he said that's what was going to happen.

SUMMERS: To the very end, Chuck Flaum was a man who got things done.

SHAPIRO: If you'd like us to memorialize a loved one you've lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter @npratc. There's a pinned tweet at the top of the page.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.