Max

Max in 1945

People who write obituaries use small words to describe big lives. I recently wrote one for my father, but could only capture a shred of the immensely positive, honest, kind, generous, and loving man, husband, and father he was. The words I have to describe him and his life are terribly insufficient. Nevertheless, below is the long form of our family’s obituary for Max Richard Sommers.

Max Richard Sommers, 95, passed away on May 1, 2022. Max was born on August 18, 1926 in Portland, OR, to Fern Langdon and Sam Sommers. If the past can be judged by the future, August 18, 1926 was an amazing day. Max attended school in Portland, graduating from Benson Tech in 1944, and attending one semester at the University of Portland, before joining the army and serving, partly in Korea, from August 1945 to January, 1947.

In 1949, along with his wife Paula, Max started a business called “City Shade Company” in downtown Vancouver, Washington. Max was more dedicated to his customers than he was to making money. He took great pride in and responsibility for the window coverings and awnings he installed. He watched the local weather with such intensity that we all believed he wished he had become a meteorologist. He did love watching the weather, but he was also watching for storms. Although he could have made substantial money on repairs, when strong winds were forecast, Max hopped in his van and drove frantically around Vancouver securing awnings he had installed. Max and Paula owned and operated City Shade for over 44 years.

Max lived life with passion. He loved fastpitch softball, golf, bowling, pinball, gin, cribbage, and poker. He loved nearly all competitive games, and never let his children win. If any of us happened to beat him in cards, we might have to stay up as long as it took for Max to win and regain the family card-playing crown. Max also loved watching sports, especially Oregon State Beaver football and Seattle Mariner baseball. A few days after nearly dying from a heart attack, Max hosted a raucous group of men in his hospital room to watch the Beavers beat the “evil” Ducks in the Civil War.

Max was simple, yet complex and adaptive. Hard work and honesty were his deepest values. He taught his children to “Never lie” and that you should never claim to be “sick” unless you can’t get out of bed. Max lived his values, getting out of bed every day and getting to work. Most mornings, he met some configuration of his best friends, Ed, Milt, Willie, Diz, and Bob for breakfast in downtown Vancouver at Spic n’ Span restaurant. Most weeks, he put in six workdays, but scheduled work around his children’s activities, Thursday afternoon golf at Green Meadows, and Paula. There was only one 3-day family vacation each year, over Labor Day weekend at Long Beach Washington, where Max loved to fish and dig for clams.

Max’s first love—above all else—was Paula. They overcame religious differences (she was Catholic, he was Jewish), forging a stable and loving marriage that lasted 70 years (until Paula died in August, 2020). After 40 years of marriage, Max finally donned a pair of shorts and headed out on his first real vacation, a cruise with Paula. Together, they went on several more cruises, returning with stories of great food and great fun. In addition to the sports page, Max suddenly started reading novels, biographies, and occasional nonfiction. He had many favorite books, including Seabiscuit and The Brothers K. Despite his Jewish roots, Max lived the quotation from Father Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, who said, “The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.”

Max loved Paula for better and for worse. When Paula began having memory problems, Max quit golfing to stay home. When she began asking him the same question 30 times a day, he repeatedly answered her with great patience, explaining, “She doesn’t mean to forget, so how can I be annoyed with her.” Max’s capacity to adapt to life’s challenges continued . . . after his heart attack, after colon cancer surgery, after a double bypass, after breaking his hip, and after a stroke. When Max—a man who had thrived on physical activity and competition—had been bedridden for over three years he still maintained his cheerful and kind disposition. Even in the end, when asked by his children, “How are you doing dad?” he struggled to awaken and would then say, “Good” and grin. Max was so wonderful that his caregivers quickly came to love him. One caregiver took to calling him “the Brother of Jesus.”

Max is survived by his children, Gayle Klein (Terry), Peggy Lotz (Dan), and John Sommers-Flanagan (Rita); and grandchildren, Chelsea Bodnar, Jason Lotz, Patrick Klein, Aaron Lotz, Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, and Stephen Klein. Max is also survived by nine great-grandchildren along with many nieces and nephews. Max was preceded in death by his parents and sisters, Geraldine Goldberg and Barbara Smith.

Our family would like to thank Noble AFH for providing Max with loving care over the last year. Memorial plans will be announced at a later date. In lieu of donations, Max would like you to get up, work hard, be honest, treat everyone with love and kindness, and enjoy a strawberry shake. If you have memories of Max you would like to share, sprinkle them here or anywhere you like . . . including his old Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007868177628

In case you want to see a video of Max and Paula Sommers – compliments of Blue Shield of Oregon and Gayle Klein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yUspNiCBdw&t=2s

17 thoughts on “Max”

  1. Dear John,

    Thank you for sharing this magnificent obituary for your dad. I can spot a man who had a good father from a hundred yards, or a 3/4 pitching wedge. I knew what kind of father you had from the moment I met you. I can only imagine how proud he was of you.

    All my best, Gary

    1. Thanks Gary! You are always so amazing and supportive. I wish we could still golf together. I always enjoyed watching you out-drive, out-chip, and out-putt me. My father was very competitive, but he taught me how to lose gracefully, and even more importantly, he taught me how to be a good judge of character . . . which is why I liked YOU from the moment I met you.

  2. What a wonderful story! Brightened my day (and explains a lot). I watched the video – not to be missed. Should be required viewing at premarital counseling and then again after 20 years. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  3. Dr. Sommers-Flanagan,

    Thank you for sharing your obituary in honor of your father, Max and, as I notice, a tribute to your lovely mother Paula, and what they shared.

    The video shows cooperation, each sharing a little of the story, and each looking at each other and smiling.

    So precious, a code of angels and elephants.

    Thank you for being generous and for sharing your observations, your stories of those you love, and of your clients.

    It seems to me, you are immensely positive, honest, kind, generous and loving as well.

    You, reflecting that to others, is a gentle, but solid way to honor him.

    May your reflection carry on, helping you feel close to him, and may you recall his giggle, and smile.

    Warmly,

    Bernadette Miller

    Helena

    1. Thanks for your incredibly thoughtful response Bernadette. I hope I’m able to show a bit of my parents through my actions. They were such great role models that it seems only right to try to pay it forward. All my best, JSF

  4. I’m so sorry for both of your losses, John. Both your mother and your father appear to have been such decent and caring human beings with kind hearts and a good moral compass. What a gift to have them model and instill such important attributes in their children and extended family. And in some small way, their lives live on in the way you live your life. My condolences to you and your family.

  5. Dear John,
    What a wonderful tribute ❤ Max was truly a man to have made a memory in people’s hearts.
    R.I.P Max and condolences to you John, Rita and your family. X

  6. John,

    Obviously I never met your father but he sounds like a hardworking, honest man who was good with people. Condolences to you.

    Lorean Oliver – UM grad from Billings, MT

  7. John,
    we don’t know each other but were classmates in High School. I have subscribed to your blog for quite some time. I have really enjoyed the stories about your Dad. My heart just aches for you and your family over the loss of Max. Your tribute to him was beautiful. What a amazing man he was. My heartfelt condolences.
    Sincerely,
    Robin Rickey-Wild

    1. Hi Robin,

      Thanks for your thoughtful message. We were exceptionally lucky to have my dad in our lives. I’m sorry I missed out on knowing you back in high school. . . maybe sometime in the future I can have the good fortune of meeting you face-to-face. Thanks again for your thoughtfulness and very kind comments.

      John

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