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Remembering John Dilenschneider, one of the many Americans lost to COVID-19

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Over the past year and a half, we've been remembering some of the more than 700,000 people who've died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and we've asked you to share their stories with us.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today we are remembering John Dilenschneider, also known as Jack. He died last month at the age of 89. Jack met his future wife of 65 years, Rody, at the University of Notre Dame. They made their home in Ohio, where Dilenschneider worked as an assistant attorney general before heading to Mississippi in the mid-'60s. There, he defended civil rights activists and others trying peacefully to vote. Jack and Rody's daughter Anne says her parents shared a lifelong commitment to helping others.

ANNE DILENSCHNEIDER: You know, both of them were steeped in sort of good Catholic - solid Catholic social justice teaching - is that everybody is included. Everybody has a place at the table. Also, having a lot of us - there were 10 kids, so there always had to be a place at the table for us and some others literally. Our friends would be there for dinner, too. It was quite a large dining table.

MCCAMMON: Jack Dilenschneider worked hard to keep food on that large dining table. Over the years, he served as a bankruptcy judge, taught bankruptcy law and served as counsel to the Supreme Court of Ohio. But his daughter Anne says none of the 10 children felt neglected.

DILENSCHNEIDER: I really marvel at how the two of them managed to navigate 10 of us. And we're a 16-year age spread, so that's a lot of difference to handle many, many different interests. And yet they kept showing up for us whatever we were doing.

CHANG: Jack Dilenschneider loved the arts. He was a huge Shakespeare fan, and music was usually playing in the house.

DILENSCHNEIDER: I remember wiring speakers into all the bedrooms with my dad so they could play music when they were trying to put 10 of us to bed. Fourth of July always began at 6 a.m. with John Philip Sousa, which was one heck of a way to get up out of bed in the morning. But it got us up and going.

MCCAMMON: In January of last year, Rody Dilenschneider died. Then the pandemic hit, leaving Jack in quarantine without Rody for the first time in 65 years. But he had his children and Zoom.

DILENSCHNEIDER: And the good part of COVID, actually, was the Zooming because we were all over the world. And the opportunity to get together every week and watch football games together - Dad would tell us more about him and Mom and how they met and their courtship, the early years, things we really never knew. But he also missed her terribly.

CHANG: Jack wrote a letter to Rody every day after she died. Then in September, he caught COVID despite being vaccinated.

DILENSCHNEIDER: He one morning got up and told my brother who was there that he wanted to go to the hospital. He just sort of announced he wanted to go. And he got to the hospital, and it was determined that he had COVID.

CHANG: Jack Dilenschneider slipped into a coma and died on September 22.

DILENSCHNEIDER: But he was ready to be with my mom. And I think that's - for him, that's the way that he and they would have wanted it to be. One of the things my dad - one of the last things he shared with us - there's a wonderful line from a Spanish philosopher. John Lennon said it, but it's something about - it'll be all right in the end. And if it's not all right, it's not the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY ME")

JOHN LENNON: (Singing) And darling, darling, stand by me.

MCCAMMON: If you'd like us to memorialize a loved one you've lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter at @NPRATC. There's a pinned tweet right at the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY ME")

LENNON: (Singing) Stand by me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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