Everyone's life has a story. In "Lives," we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently. "Lives" runs Mondays in The Salem News.
Mark Fleming knew nothing about wine when he went to work as a waiter, which was a problem because Michael's Gran Cru on Route 1 was all about wine.
"Mark was a beer drinker," said his sister Susan O'Brien, who ran the restaurant that stood where Bertucci's is now. But Fleming was a quick study, and pretty soon he knew more about wine than renowned expert Robert Parker.
"Honest to God," O'Brien said. "He knew so much, and he was so funny."
Combined with his wit and likability, patrons eventually requested to sit in his section.
"There would be empty tables," O'Brien recalled, "but they would say, 'No, we'll wait for Mark's table, thank you.'"
Fleming died March 19 following an extended illness. The Salem native lived in Beverly and was 57.
"He was incredible," O'Brien said. "Everybody was a friend."
Fleming spent most of his life caring for his older brother, Michael, who is developmentally disabled. The two lived together for 28 years.
The relationship led to a career for Fleming who, as a licensed practical nurse, worked with the disabled and elderly in various group homes on the North Shore.
For many years, he assisted developmentally challenged teenagers at the Hogan Regional Center. His care was always a mix of compassion and humor.
"He could make a horse laugh. I swear to God he could," said Richard Lamasney, who described his friend and second cousin as "the Irish Robin Williams."
His wit was sharp and spontaneous. When put on the spot to deliver a toast at Lamasney's wedding, Fleming had everyone in the room howling with laughter.