SAN JOSE, Calif. >> For the 2,000 in attendance at the HP Pavilion, today’s The Celebration of the Life of Charlie Wedemeyer was a perfect blend of smiles and tears.
Those in attendance were often dabbing their eyes while laughing out loud as an array of family and friends — from the famous to the unknown — recounted stories of how Wedemeyer had touched their lives with his famous journey.
The Punahou School graduate died on June 3 after a long battle with Amotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) that was first diagnosed in 1978 after feeling its effects in 1976. His wife, Lucy, right by his side in the final moments, told a captivated crowd that she whispered in his ear, “If heaven is too irresistible, it’s OK, I’ll meet you there.”
His high school sweetheart was the first of eight to share their love and admiration for the legendary local prep athlete, who was the holder for Michigan State in the 1966 Game of the Century between the No. 2 Spartans and the top-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame that ended in a 10-10 tie.
The memorial service lasted two and a half hours for the Los Gatos, Calif., resident, whose life inspired an Emmy-award winning documentary “One More Season,” the autobiography “Charlie’s Victory” and the TV movie “Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story.”
He and his wife traveled the world to share their inspirational story that was told in so many ways today — big and small — there’s no way to write them all down. Former San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci was the closing act in this late-morning gathering that stretched into the early afternoon.
Mariucci talked about how every Monday after a 49ers game, he greeted the media by naming the Bay Area’s Charlie Wedemeyer coach of the week. At year’s end, there was a ceremony at the San Francisco practice field where all those year’s winners would gather and wait for the Wedemeyers to come and recognize the honorees.
Near the end of practice, Lucy would drive up in what Mariucci described as “The Pope Mobile” and park it, “Anywhere she wanted.” Charlie would be wheeled into Mariucci’s office and sit at his 49ers desk.
“One time I told him, ‘Why don’t you take my job? Terrell Owens is driving me crazy,'” Mariucci recalled. “And Charlie just gave me that wink.”
A second memorial will be held on Oahu this week, but the local flavor rang true throughout today’s program. There were a couple of hula dances, everyone on the podium wore a lei and Lucy was adorned in a beautiful aloha shirt in honor of her husband. When she finished her heartfelt speech, she said, “He never set out to be a hero, he just wanted to live his life.”