Charlie Funderburke of Rock Hill is a decorated and disabled Vietnam and Gulf war veteran. Funderburke, a retired lieutenant colonel, gave 43 years to his country. He still cries for the friends he calls heroes lost in combat.
But this week, Funderburke is mourning a hero closer to home. It’s his grandson, Seth Thomas, who died in Peru last week while hiking.
“I wish that I was half the man my grandson was,” Funderburke said. “He died like he lived. Helping people.”
Thomas, a medical student at the University of South Carolina, had been in Peru on a medical outreach mission trip. He had done other mission trips since his high school days in Irmo.
Thomas’ death became international news in both North America and South America.
But it Thomas’s life that will be remembered forever, Funderburke hopes.
The trip to Peru was to help rural poor people with medical care, Funderburke said.
Medical school came after Thomas spent a year teaching in Spain, following his graduation with honors from Clemson University.
“I am so proud of Seth and the life he lived,” Funderburke said. “He believed he could help the people of this world. He did help them. He would have done it his whole life.”
Thomas was hiking to see a famous cross in the mountains of Peru when he fell and died, Funderburke said the family has been told by Peruvian officials.
“Seth’s faith was a part of his life and his goal to help people,” Funderburke said.
Thomas has deep Rock Hill ties. His parents, Heyward and Janet Thomas, met while students at Winthrop University. An aunt and grandfather live in Rock Hill.
A memorial service will be 1 p.m. Saturday at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Columbia, the obituary says. The family will receive friends from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Dunbar Funeral Home, Dutch Fork Chapel.
Charlie Funderburke, known in Rock Hill for buying Winthrop basketball season tickets for a disabled woman and several kids, said his pride continues in his grandson living a rich life of service.
Thomas’s peers at USC so loved him that the students have set up a Go Fund me page.
“In life, you find a way to be a person of value, someone who can help others,” Funderburke said. “My grandson did that. He was doing it when he died.”