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Don Leighton column: Pat Flynn's legacy will live forever

The former teacher and coach died on Dec. 22, 2020.
Pat Flynn poses for a photo with his children and grandchildren. (Submitted Photo)
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I have always said it is a good thing to take advantage of your friends. This may sound awful, but let me explain.

I love people, especially nice, genuine and real people who I can learn from and “use” to improve my life. I could list all of the positive attributes my friend Pat Flynn exhibited, but we would be here all day.

Suffice it to say, Pat was an incredible human being; a friend to thousands of people; a world class educator and school administrator; an excellent coach; and a father, grandfather, brother and husband of extraordinary qualities. I have taken every opportunity to learn from him, but I am a mere shadow of who he was. Pat Flynn was one of a kind.

Pat was always looking to improve himself. He had a lot of friends — young and old; he loved to travel and to read, all of which broadened his horizons. He never sat still or got complacent regarding his knowledge. He was a huge science fiction fan and he particularly enjoyed "Star Trek," as do I. We would discuss how "Star Trek" was more a “documentary about life” than science fantasy. In fact, Mr. Spock was one of our heroes.

Pat Flynn calls a UW-Superior men's basketball game for iFan in December 2019. (File / Jed Carlson /

One of Pat’s favorite authors was someone that each one of has read many, many times. Theodor Geisel, whose pen name was Dr. Seuss, wrote many clever and profound stories enjoyed by readers of all ages. One of Pat’s favorite musings by Dr. Seuss was, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Even though I am deeply saddened, I will always smile when I think of Pat. I am a much better person for having known Pat for 27 years.

Our friendship was always evolving and getting stronger, if that is possible. A 15-year webcasting partnership on iFan resulted in over 800 games covered for UWS, Superior High School, the College of St. Scholastica and other youth athletic activities. What a time of my life to share with my friend. Each of those games was a highlight of my week. I loved Pat Flynn and working with him was like playing on the playground with my best friend.

Pat loved coaching young people on the finer points of basketball. For years, he coached traveling teams and contributed to the success of the Superior High School teams because of his expertise. He and I coached youth baseball together for many years, and his knowledge and love of the players was evident at all times.

He was stern when he needed to be, but he would put an arm around a player who needed a hug. Pat just seemed to know what to do and when to do it.
Pat Flynn, center, gives a tour to presidential hopeful Howard Dean, left, along with students JeAnna Holcombe and Elise Olson at Superior Middle School in February 2004. (File / Jed Carlson /


I suppose his ability to grasp a situation and handle it properly came from his years of teaching experience at Central and East junior high schools and at Superior Middle School. His keyboarding classes were legendary for entertainment value. He actually taught his students how to juggle multiple tennis balls! And how many former students of his keyboarding classes use the skills he taught them because of today’s dependence on computers?

One of Pat’s greatest joys in life was to help coach the UWS women’s basketball team. Coaches Don and Harold Mulhern and Zack Otto-Fisher were loved dearly by Pat. He couldn’t wait for practices in October to start. The parents he met; the players he coached; the thrills those great teams provided; the post-game gatherings at Grizzly’s with Dave Johnson, myself and the coaches. Oh, how he loved those times. I will never forget those times and will cherish them for the rest of my life.

As life evolves, we seldom, if ever, take a look back at who we were and who we have become. Sometimes, it's good to turn the lights out, sit in a silent and darkened room and engage ourselves in thought and self-reflection.

I have done this often, but more often since my friend has left this earth. I have fully realized that a lot of what I am and who I am is a result of the friends with whom I have chosen to surround myself. To borrow a phrase from New York Yankee slugger, Lou Gehrig, “I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Because of the love, respect and friendship I enjoyed with Pat, Lori, Chip, Matt and Kayti over 27 years, I am a much better person than I ever thought possible.

Pat has taught us all a lot about life as he lived life to the fullest. He has left us with grace, dignity and unwavering faith in Jesus Christ and his new life. I dare say there are thousands of people who are better people for having met Mr. Flynn, whether he taught, coached, befriended or worked with them.

The British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, “'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

I will simply say it is better to have had Pat Flynn in our lives than never to have had him at all.


Opinions and/or story ideas can be emailed to Don Leighton at .

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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