Thomas F. Flannery, 79, longtime editorial cartoonist for The Sun

November 10, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen and Jacques Kelly | Frederick N. Rasmussen and Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Thomas F. Flannery, retired editorial cartoonist for The Sun and The Evening Sun whose trenchant yet subtle pen-and-ink cartoons made him a local institution, died in his sleep yesterday morning at his North Baltimore home. He was 79.

For more than 30 years, the question, "Have you seen Flannery today?" was a frequent comment from readers of The Sunpapers.

"Tom was a wonderful man to work with," said Joseph R. L. Sterne, retired editorial page editor of The Sun. "He had a touch of Irish whimsy in him. He had a wonderfully sardonic outlook on life. It was reflected in his cartoons."

Mr. Flannery, a small, owlish-looking man with black-rimmed glasses, who was blessed with an infectious yet gentle sense of humor, joined The Evening Sun in 1957.

He succeeded Richard Q. "Moco" Yardley when the famed editorial cartoonist retired from The Sun in 1972.

During his 31-year career, Mr. Flannery produced some 7,200 drawings for The Evening Sun and The Sun, many of which he deposited at the Johns Hopkins University's Eisenhower Library.

They demonstrated an expert draftsmanship, deft hand and economy of line, and were always signed with an upbeat brush stroke: "Flannery."

He retired in 1988.

Readers praised and damned him. One letter to the editor described his work as "petty and characteristically spiteful"; another found it "absolutely eloquent."

"He never succumbed to shrillness -- never," said Mike Lane, who succeeded Mr. Flannery as Evening Sun cartoonist in 1972. "He didn't have a proverbial mean bone in his body. His art was gentle and kind. He had no instinct for the jugular."

For years, Mr. Flannery worked hunched over a charcoal- and ink-stained drawing board in a cluttered fifth-floor office illuminated by the north light. He ended his career in a similar fourth-floor office that faced the afternoon sun.

There, with the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, tie pulled down half way and a cigarette slowly burning in a nearby ashtray, he contemplated the news of the day while planning his response, often making preliminary pencil sketches on copy paper.

"His medium was ink and charcoal -- suggestive of a softer medium than line drawings," said Mr. Lane. "Around about 4: 30 or 5 in the afternoon his hands would be covered with charcoal and his nose would invariably have a smudge."

"I like to present a viewpoint, my viewpoint, rather than to illustrate an issue," Mr. Flannery told Harold A. Williams, retired editor of The Sunday Sun and author of "The Baltimore Sun 1837-1987." "I'm prejudiced as to what I think is right. I'm not always right, obviously, but that is the way I see my job."

"There was a atmosphere of good will in his cartoons," said Mr. Sterne. "He wasn't a cutting cartoonist. There's often a great element of fun in his cartoons. He never bludgeoned."

Mr. Sterne, who was Mr. Flannery's editor, said he was "very sparing in his use of lines. In his drawings there's a spare quality -- a minimal use of detail to get his point across."

Born in Carbondale, Pa., in the coal country of eastern Pennsylvania, Mr. Flannery graduated from Jessup High School, near Scranton.

He attended Cooper Union in New York City, and studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the University of Scranton. He worked as a hotel auditor in New York City before joining the Air Force and being stationed in England with the Eighth Air Force.

In 1943, he joined the staff of Yank magazine, based in London, as an artist.

"Some of the best cartoons he ever drew were for Yank magazine during the war. As a young soldier on his first trip abroad he was in a civilized city talking to the guys and correspondents who were on the front lines," said James H. Bready, retired Evening Sun editorial writer.

After the war, Mr. Flannery worked as a free-lance cartoonist in New York, where his work regularly appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Look, Colliers, Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan, until becoming staff cartoonist for the Lowell, Mass., Sun in 1948.

An inveterate record collector, Mr. Flannery never lost his deep appreciation for 1920s jazz, swing and big band music.

He was married in 1953 to the former Donna Elizabeth Hossack, who died in 1973. In 1986, he married the former Angela Ryan, who survives him.

He was a communicant of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans.

Plans for services were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Flannery is survived by two sons, Shawn P. Flannery of Cockeysville and David "Chip" Flannery of Baltimore; two daughters, Sharon Wilkerson of Landisburg, Pa., and Janine Momberger of Baltimore; two brothers, Joseph Flannery of Dunmore, Pa., and Matthew Flannery of Clarks Summit, Pa.; a sister, Clare Burke of Drexel Hill, Pa.; and seven grandchildren.

Sun library researchers Dee Lyon and Paul McCardell assisted with this article.

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