Charles Mock, courageous in illness

November 23, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The worst part was not being able to talk to her husband as he slowly died before her eyes.

Charles R. Mock Jr. died at Franklin Square Hospital Friday of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 60.

"If only we could have talked to each other, I could stand all the rest," said Virginia Lee Mock, his widow.

A Perry Hall resident, Mr. Mock was diagnosed with ALS in September of last year. The ability to speak was one of the first things the degenerative nerve disease took from him.

Charlie Mock was a man who loved to read at home, play bridge with friends and golf at the Sparrows Point Country Club; an avid ballroom dancer with a flair for the tango and the cha-cha; a father of four who became fluent in Russian with the Army during the Korean War and spent most of his adult life working as a typesetter.

But after finding out he was a victim of a disease for which there is no cure, Mr. Mock's life was was dominanted by the malady named for the great New York Yankees slugger who succumbed to it in 1941.

"My husband donated his body to Hopkins for ALS research," said Mrs. Mock. "They have no idea what it is or how you get it. There is no treatment and no cure. The best you can do is treat the symptoms. At the end, my husband was completely disabled. They don't know if it runs in families, a possibility of our children turning up with it. Charlie was very concerned with these things. We went to all the support-group meetings."

ALS afflicts 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States and kills about 5,000 every year. The disease, which destroys cells that relay messages to muscles throughout the body, is particularly cruel: As they wither, victims retain the ability to think and know what is happening to them.

In May, scientists at Johns Hopkins found that victims of ALS lack a protein needed to prevent the death of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The discovery led researchers to believe they were a crucial step closer to explaining the causes of the disease, although a cure is not expected for years.

"We went to the library and got all the literature we could; we went to all the meetings," said Mrs. Mock. "There just isn't that much information. You live two-to-five years, and that's it."

Charlie Mock was born in Dundalk. His father was a welder, and his mother worked as a telephone operator at the Johns Hopkins University. While attending Kenwood High School, he learned to set hot metal type by hand as an apprentice for a Baltimore printing company. It was a skill he would use to earn a living for the rest of his life.

After getting out of high school, Mr. Mock served almost four years in the Army, earning the rank of corporal. After his discharge, he studied English at Towson State University, pursuing a dream of teaching high school English.

Said Mrs. Mock: "He was probably the best speller I ever met in my life."

But Mr. Mock decided to leave college and make his living as a typesetter, working in the composing room of The Baltimore Sun in the 1950s and local printing companies during the age of the Linotype machine.

His illness forced him to retire from the sales department of the Maryland Composition Co. in Glen Burnie a year ago.

"At first, the Maryland Department of Vocational Rehabilitation got him a voice computer so he could continue to work. He would type into it, hit enter, and it would speak for him," Mrs. Mock said. "Charlie did some work after he got the machine, but after a while he couldn't even type into it. At home we'd communicate with a letter board. I would point to a letter, and he would blink to tell me if it was the right one."

Just before he died, with his wife pointing to the letter board, Mr. Mock blinked out the words "I love you."

Mrs. Mock, who runs a word-processing business in her home, said that once she gets over mourning her husband she will try to help others caring for a loved one dying of ALS.

"At the end, my husband couldn't do anything for himself. I don't know if Charlie ever came to terms with his disease; he just accepted that somebody had to get it and it was him," she said. "We hadn't been to church in several years, but when Charles got sick we started going back,and he got some sense of peace from it."

Services will be held 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Schimunek Funeral Home, 9705 Belair Road in Perry Hall.

In addition to his wife, the former Virginia Hamby, whom he married in 1960, Mr. Mock is survived by three sons, Charles Mock III of Front Royal, Va., David Mock of Catonsville and Lawrence Mock of Perry Hall; a daughter, Heather Mock of Perry Hall; a brother, Franklin Mock of Baltimore; and a sister, Karen A. Brown of Catonsville.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, 30 East Padonia Road, Timonium, Md. 21093.

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