The Sun's Rumpole was a wit for the ages

What he did teach me was how to live with the wrenching pain of creating a bad cartoon and then having to see it in the next day's paper.

November 17, 1999|By Mike Lane

TWENTY-eight years ago I stumbled into The Evening Sun and into the patient arms of Tommy Flannery. It was the bright idea of the editor-in-chief Price Day, to hire an untested, unpublished cartoonist from a business background, to replace Tommy who replaced Richard "Moco" Q. Yardley. My general demeanor can be described as unadulterated panic. Tommy treated my condition with generous doses of good humor and calm.

Tommy knew that editorial cartooning couldn't be taught. Editorial cartooning is a bad habit carried over from childhood, which a few adults find themselves miraculously being paid to do instead of being sent to the principal's office.

What he did teach me was how to live with the wrenching pain of creating a bad cartoon and then having to see it in the next day's paper. And how to exult in a cartoon that zings one of our favorite public servants, knowing it will be served up to the subject with his morning bacon and eggs. Oh, the joy!

We had adjoining offices for years and I can still hear his chuckles over the wall, "heh-heh-heh," and I would know someone was going to get it but good. I inherited your "heh-heh-heh," Tommy.

The cartooning world was unfair to Tommy. He was the first Evening Sun cartoonist, and, eventually, he quietly replaced a homemade legend by the name of Yardley on The Sun. But Tommy seemed opaque in a cartooning world filling up with self-promoters. He never changed his nice, steady style.

Was he not appreciated for his wit and art? You couldn't tell it by Tommy. He just sailed on in his own easy way. He figured that all he was about was what came out of his No. 2 brush. He taught me that.

Tommy Flannery was The Sun's and Evening Sun's Irish Rumpole. He will always be remembered at gatherings with a tumbler in one hand. His other hand would be tugging at one ofyour lapels to gather you into one his sweet stories.

Swear words never escaped his lips, meanness was never part of his being. And last, he was a private man who would be embarrassed at all this fuss over him now.

But, don't worry, Tommy. You know our business. You'll be yesterday's story tomorrow and all will be quiet again. But you won't be forgotten.

Oh, and Tommy, before you go to meet St. Peter, your tie could use some straightening and there's a charcoal smudge on your nose.

Goodbye, old friend.

Mike Lane is a Sun editorial cartoonist.

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