Friends and associates of Republican political activist and entrepreneur Charles D. Snelling were shocked at Thursday’s news that he had killed his wife, Adrienne, and then himself to end their struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, with which Adrienne had suffered for six years.
Here is what they said:
Dean Browning, a Lehigh County Republican committeeman and former chair of the Lehigh County Commissioners, has known Snelling for about 10 years as a friend, mentor and confidante.
He said Snelling had phoned him on Wednesday, saying in a message left on his work phone that he was referring a customer to New World Aviation, where Browning is chief financial officer.
Browning didn't get a chance to call him back, but said, "He sounded like his usual self – cheerful, upbeat, to the point. I'm stunned as to the sequence of events that led him to do what he did. I can't piece it together."
Browning, of South Whitehall, said Snelling was "a great gentleman." At a meeting at Snelling's house last year, Browning watched Snelling interact with his wife. "He was extremely patient and kind and loving with her."
In politics, Snelling was always willing to give advice and direction," said Browning. And he would tell you when he thought you were wrong, he said.
Browning last saw Snelling in February, when they had breakfast together. He said they had talked on the phone since then, over plans for a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Brad Osborne, chairman of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners and South Whitehall resident, said Snelling was "both a supporter and a mentor."
Just last month, Osborne said, Snelling had taught him about the "mirror" test.
When contemplating a big decision as county commissioner chair, Snelling had told him, look in the mirror and ask yourself, will you be proud afterward? "And that's my memory of Charles," Osborne said.
Pamela Varkony, who has been Snelling's friend for 25 years, called the apparent manner of death “a shock.”
Varkony said she had last seen the Snellings at an event at Cedar Crest College, where Adrienne was an alumna. Charles was upbeat and looked well, Varkony said. Adrienne had a nurse by her side and looked well cared for.
“I look at this as an act of strength and of choice, not of weakness,” said Varkony, a motivational speaker, writer and women’s advocate. “He wanted to control the end. He did not want to risk leaving her alone.”
Charles Snelling was one of Varkony’s primary advisors during her brief political career as a city councilwoman and mayoral candidate in Allentown.
“He was a strong believer in the value of women in the process,” Varkony said.
“He was important to me because our value system was so similar. We saw the political world through the same lens. It was sort of reassuring to a political neophyte.
“I will always remember him as a great gentleman with tremendous intelligence and generosity of spirit,” Varkony said. “He was a true renaissance man. He was a writer. He was a scientist. He was a poet.” State Sen. Bob Mensch, called Charles Snelling "a visionary, an entrepreneur and a friend to us all."
"Their legacy will endure through their generous commitment to Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest College, and many other organizations. My thoughts and prayers are with the Snelling family and all those who know Charlie and Adrienne.”
Former Lehigh County executive and former state Rep. Jane Baker told The Morning Call: "Two years ago [in 2010] their Christmas card was a picture of them, walking hand in hand, backs to the camera, and it said, 'going home,' Some people who got that card were very upset, because that was the message."
"His wife was a lovely person. I know it was a very difficult time for Charles caring for his wife, and it's certainly a sad ending."
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent told The Express Times, “I’m shocked and devastated. You could tell how hard this was, not only on her, but on him. You could just see it."
Bar Johnston, acting chair of the Lehigh County Democrats, said, "Nothing matters as much to the democratic process as the interaction of differing opinions and positions. Snelling facilitated thoughtful, provocative dialogue. Our thoughts go out to his family."
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