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Mom embraced people, politics, travel

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Joan Fleckenstein believed in politics, the power of a welcoming kiss and living a life full of adventure.

She worked for Pete Flaherty before he was mayor of Pittsburgh. She taught her children the campaign slogans of Silvestri Silvestri, a former Commonwealth Court judge, as he ran for office. She kissed everyone, even if she didn’t know them, and for a decade in her 70s and 80s, she took a road trip every year with her best friend of 66 years to Florida.

Joan Fleckenstein of Green Tree, known as “Honey” to her grandchildren and close friends, died Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, of heart failure. She was 83.

“She was just a special lady. She lived life so hard,” said her youngest child, Bob Fleckenstein, of Upper St. Clair. “She was not apologetic.”

Mrs. Fleckenstein was born in Braddock and had family ties to local politics — her father was Aloysius “Ish” T. McLaughlin, mayor of Swissvale in the late 1960s. The family moved to Swissvale in the early 1940s, and Mrs. Fleckenstein graduated from Swissvale High School in 1949. Upon earning a secretarial degree from Robert Morris College, she worked in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office. This is where she worked with Flaherty and Silvestri, said Stacey Vernallis of Fox Chapel, Mrs. Fleckenstein’s daughter.

“She just thought Pete was the brightest lawyer. She knew he was going to go very far,” Vernallis said.

In 1953, she met her husband of 46 years, Robert J. Fleckenstein.

The children described their parents as fun-loving and glamorous.

“They would wear a tie and heels and go have a cocktail in someone’s basement. It was very ‘Mad Men,’ ” said Leslie McKee of Mt. Lebanon, Mrs. Fleckenstein’s daughter.

Vernallis said when her mother went to parties, she was the center of attention and did her best to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

“She was often seen holding court in a room,” Vernallis said.

Mrs. Fleckenstein’s sense of humor came out in her Christmas cards, her children said. In one memorable missive, Mrs. Fleckenstein was sitting on the lap of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

She prided herself on introducing her daughter Stacey’s stepchildren, who lived in Nairobi, Kenya, to skiing in Seven Springs.

When her husband died in 2002, her children credit her best friend, Lois Maloy, for helping her grieve. In their later years, the two women drove to Florida for vacations.

Her burial Mass will be at 11 a.m. Monday in SS. Simon and Jude Church, 1607 Greentree Road in Green Tree. The burial will be for family only. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked donations be made to the American Heart Association, 777 Penn Center Boulevard in Pittsburgh or the Huntington Disease Society of America, HDSA.org, 505 Eighth Ave., Suite 902, New York, NY 10018.

Megha Satyanarayana is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7991 or megha@tribweb.com.

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