One morning in the middle of a conversation Charlie Wolf suddenly found himself unable to speak. He could understand what was being said to him, but whatever he tried to say came out as gibberish. His wife drove him to the emergency room while he struggled to remain conscious. That was over six years ago.
Today Charlie is in a better place and the world is a lot emptier. Goodbye Charlie. Many of us have a few letters to write and will keep you in our thoughts as we write them.
Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News
Charlie Wolf's friends and family - and likely some who never met him but were inspired by his spirit - will gather today for his memorial service.
And some might be surprised to hear from Charlie himself.
Wolf, a former manager at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver, became something of a local celebrity for beating the odds against brain cancer, the stock market and the federal government.
Ever the project engineer, Wolf had organized a file filled with letters during his nearly seven-year illness. Most were penned at least two years ago, before he lost the ability to write.
Wolf, who died Wednesday, had marked each letter to be read on special occasions: his daughters' graduations, weddings, all the important moments he knew he might miss.
He also wrote for the little moments, such as the letter for his wife labeled: "Kathy, Read when you're feeling really bad."
Today, his family will read his funeral letter.
It will be a mixture of thanks, humor and spirit - quintessential Charlie.
"You knew he loved you," said one of his three daughters, Charlotte, 26. "But to read it now is really nice. He was our hero."
Wolf, who lived in Highlands Ranch, was a hero to many others, too.
There are the dozens of fellow nuclear weapons workers. He helped some prove they deserved medical and financial aid because their work building the nation's Cold War nuclear defense made them sick.
There are hundreds of people who were inspired by the two books he wrote. Each chronicled how he survived recurring brain cancer, a bone- marrow transplant and years of experimental treatment, all with humor and a zest for life.
There are thousands more who read about him in the Rocky Mountain News and The Wall Street Journal. He appeared in both last July: The Journal wrote about how his brain cancer might actually have sparked a savantlike ability to beat the stock market.
The Rocky told the story of how he beat the odds to survive more than six years with brain cancer that was supposed to have killed him in six months. It showed how Wolf needed the help of a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, his congressman and even his insurance company to overcome the hurdles of the troubled federal program for sick nuclear weapons workers.
Wolf finally won half the compensation he believed he deserved. He was denied the rest shortly before he died.
But he never gave up.
"What a hero," said his doctor, Edward Arenson of the Colorado Neurological Institute in Englewood.
"He was someone very special. And so is his family."
Arenson said Wolf's willingness to try experimental treatments for his brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, will help others in the future.
"He wanted to help people," said his wife, Kathy Wolf.
While his family cherishes their letters from Charlie, there is another letter that leaves them feeling disturbed. Just weeks before Wolf died, the U.S. Department of Labor informed him it planned to deny him the final portion of compensation for his brain cancer.
If he disagreed with the decision, the letter said, he should write back within 60 days.
Wolf had not been able to write for two years.
His wife, Kathy, responded on his behalf. No, she wrote, they didn't agree with the Labor Department's decision. The government had failed to address multiple issues Wolf and his team of experts first raised during a hearing on his case nearly two years to the day before he died.
She asked the Labor Department to document its responses to Wolf's expert testimony.
On Jan. 21, one week before Wolf died, the Labor Department sent a form letter in return. It was addressed to Kathy Wolf, but started with a puzzling: "Dear Mr. Mr. (sic) Wolf." It made no reference to any outstanding issues. If you have additional evidence to submit, the letter said, please send it within 20 days.
Wolf had submitted thousands of pages of evidence during the more than six years he fought for full compensation. Now, his wife Kathy wonders, what could the Labor Department possible want?
"Now that Charlie is dead, are they going to make me start all over?" she asked, noting that some widows Charlie helped had to do just that.
But that worry is for another day. Today, his family will relish the letters he left for them, and the impact he had on the lives of friends, family - and even strangers.
frankl@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5091
* The public is invited to a celebration of Charlie Wolf's life at 2 p.m. today at the Denver Marriott South, 10345 Park Meadows Drive, Littleton. Donations may be sent to the Colorado Neurological Institute, thecni.org/donations.
[See also Udall enlists in Charlie Wolf's War.]