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Pat Flynn, 'Mother of Relay', dies

Pat Flynn looks at a Relay for Life pendant created for her by Steph Farber of LeRoy Jewelers on Feb. 27, 2014. Flynn, known as the "Mother of Relay" for her work in getting the American Cancer Society's fundraiser off the ground, died Saturday.
Pat Flynn looks at a Relay for Life pendant created for her by Steph Farber of LeRoy Jewelers on Feb. 27, 2014. Flynn, known as the "Mother of Relay" for her work in getting the American Cancer Society's fundraiser off the ground, died Saturday. Staff file, 2014

Pat Flynn, one of the people instrumental to the founding of Relay for Life who was known as the "Mother of Relay," has died.

The 80-year-old Tacoma native suffered from kidney failure and had been on dialysis for the past four years before dying Saturday afternoon in hospice care, son Mark Flynn said Sunday afternoon.

"It's insane the reach this little old lady had," Mark Flynn said. "I've been traveling around with her for the past four years with Relay for Life since she's been on kidney dialysis. To meet the people around the world who she's had an impact on, it's amazing."

Pat Flynn called herself the "details person" for Relay for Life, which was started by Tacoma surgeon Dr. Gordon Klatt in 1985, when he ran 83 miles around the University of Puget Sound track in 24 hours to raise money in memory of a young man who had died of cancer.

The next year, 220 people on 19 teams joined Klatt to run around Stadium Bowl's track to raise money for cancer research, starting an annual worldwide fundraiser that has generated more than $6 billion in donations to the American Cancer Society. Events are now held in 30 countries across the world.

Flynn watched Klatt on his first run through the locked gates outside the UPS track, and he asked her to join Relay for Life's six-person organizing committee six months later.

"Neither of us dreamed that in 30 years it would raise $5 billion," Flynn told The News Tribune in August 2014, after Klatt died at age 71 from a heart condition.

Flynn, who grew up on Day Island, trained thousands of volunteers over the years for the 24-hour fundraising run. She was a longtime Tacoma Public Schools employee who transitioned to the city of Tacoma's communications office before retiring to care for her husband of 50 years, Mike, before he died in 2008.

"She was probably one of the most giving people I've ever met," said Mark Flynn, the Tacoma Relay for Life chairman. "She just gave and gave and gave. This whole Relay for Life movement became her cause."

Flynn was the first member inducted into the Relay for Life Hall of Fame in 1998.

"She helped turn an idea into a worldwide movement and worked tirelessly to change the face of cancer forever," American Cancer Society CEO Gary Reedy said in a statement.

Flynn was a lifelong member of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, where she was baptized, as were her three children, sons Mike, Mark and Kelly.

"Her church was a huge part of her life," Mark Flynn said. "Eight or nine days ago, she went to her final session meeting and resigned from her position, and then went to the Spar Tavern with all of them. That just amazes me."

Flynn is survived by her three sons, Mike and Mark, both of Tacoma; and Kelly, of Las Vegas; and 15 grandchildren. Funeral arrengements have not yet been made. In lieu of flowers, the Flynn family has asked that donations to Relay for Life be made at patflynn.org.

The family will also be auctioning off Flynn's hundreds of pieces of Relay for Life merchandise to raise money for the American Cancer Society "so she can fundraise from heaven," Mark Flynn said.

"She's such a warm and inviting soul when she walks into a room," Mark Flynn said. "She's made a difference in so many lives. She's an inspiration to millions.

"She's an inspiration to me, I can tell you that."

Information from The News Tribune archives was used in this report.

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