Pierce John Francis Xavier Flanigan, III

-By John Armor

Pierce Flanigan died suddenly of a stroke. Wednesday of this week. He was my lifelong friend. But this is about his life, not his death.

To save much time in a complex story about the Flanigan men, I wrote part of this story in 2005, with the title, “Condi Rice & Pierce Flanigan’s Father’s Hat,” about Pierce’s father’s death. It also introduces the one story about Pierce when he was 12 years old, that I offer as a symbol of the man,

Our fathers, who were friends, had installed us both in Troop 35 at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, in the fall of 1954. The Troop was in chaos because it had lost its Scoutmaster, and a new one had not been lined up.

Then came the Friday night shortly after, when Dr. Carl Zapfee arrived with his son. Dr. Zapfee was a bear of a man with huge hands and a booming voice. He’d grown up in the woods of northern Minnesota. His hair was prematurely white. He looked like I’d imagine Paul Bunyan would, if Paul had reached old age but kept his barrel chest and his axe.

Within two more weeks, Dr. Zapfee had become the Scoutmaster of Troop 35, and he served in that position for 41 years, turning out over 240 Eagle Scouts.

Dr. Zapfee’s method of getting control of the chaos that was the Troop was simple, effective, and it involved both Pierce and me. He observed what was going on, and who the leaders of the misbehavior were. Then, he took those two leaders, Pierce and me, and made us both Senior Patrol leaders. We were each put in charge of three of the six patrols, each patrol being a unit of 8 to 10 boys.

In one night, we went from being the ringleaders of chaos, to being the leaders of scouting activities and order. Furthermore, by giving us both one half of the duties, we had to compete in keeping things in order, and getting results.

Dr. Zapfee’s wisdom in making those choices about Pierce and me paid dividends from that day to this. Two years later, when Troop 35 conducted its Board of Honor to award its first Eagle Scout awards in almost a decade, the four boys who stood up for that award were Pierce Flanigan, me, Lee Trone, and Tommy Strom.

I do not want to give the false impression that one single moment turned Pierce and me into absolute and permanent goody-goodies. It didn’t. I’ll recount one incident when I fell off the wagon of correct behavior. Pierce’s incidents should now be lost in the mists of time.

On a trip to Luray Cavern in Virginia, I was in a station wagon with a leader/volunteer, seven Scouts and their gear. We passed a skunk on the side of the road. Somehow, I persuaded the driver to stop so we could take pictures. To make a long story short, the skunk ran under an overhanging rock to escape us. As the senior Scout present, I then dragged the skunk out by the tail, and it bit me, but did not spray me. (This unlikely prank is confirmed in a Sunpaper article, with illustration.)

Pierce and I became, for the most part, hard-working and able folks. We graduated from Gilman School and then from Yale University together. Pierce joined, and later became President of P. Flanigan and Sons, a fourth-generation construction firm. He became Board Chairman of Catholic Charities, and served on many community and service boards.

He became an advisor to Mayors and Governors in Maryland. Many people, including the current Governor, made statements about Pierce for his obituary, which has just been printed in the Baltimore Sun. Perhaps the best of those testimonials came from a classmate and mutual, lifelong friend. Stan Heuisler. He said that Pierce “brought an understated competence to everything, and the only relentless things about him were his intellectual curiosity and his love for his wife and family.”

Pierce is survived by his wife, two sons, two daughters, his mother, a brother, two sisters and two grandchildren. He is also survived by hundreds of men who knew him as a Scout in Troop 35 and as a student in Gilman and at Yale. All of us learned at least some of what it means to be dedicated to a task, and to persist until you succeed, from Pierce Flanigan.

“No man is an island, entire of itself…. never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”
John Armor is a graduate of Yale, and Maryland Law School, and has 33 years practice at law in the US Supreme Court. Mr. Armor has authored seven books and over 750 articles. Armor happily lives on a mountaintop in the Blue Ridge. He can be reached at: John_Armor@aya.yale.edu

Copyright Publius Forum 2001