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Earl Layton Flanagan

Earl Layton Flanagan

On Monday, Memorial Day, May 29, 2023, Earl Layton Flanagan died at the age of 98 in his home in Alexandria, Virginia, where he lived for over 40 years with his wife Virginia Irene Flanagan and for nearly 7 more years after her death in 2016.

A Memorial Service will be held Sunday, June 25, 2023 at 2PM at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, 2001 Sherwood Hall Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306. The service will be immediately followed by a reception with light refreshments in the adjacent Fellowship Hall.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Dad was born on December 28, 1924 in the suburban Chicago town of Harvey, Illinois, the fourth and last child born to John Layton Flanagan and Clara Flanagan (née Haldorson). Evelyn was their firstborn child, followed by Marion and Lucille. Earl was their only son and baby boy. Earl and his sisters were close to one another throughout their lives. Although his childhood was lived during the Great Depression, Dad’s life growing up was marked by joy and laughter in his sister’s company. Music was a part of his life from the beginning. His mother played the piano and introduced all her children to the world of music. As children they performed as a singing quartet locally and on the radio on the WLS National Barn Dance along side notables such as George Goebel and Gene Autrey. When Dad’s voice changed his sisters continued on as a trio and he then focused his attention on piano and flute, excelling on both instruments.

Earl graduated from Thornton Township High School in 1942. He was drafted into the U.S. Army after 1 year of college including training in the ROTC. His skill in math resulted in his assignment to the 607th Headquarters Artillery Battalion in the 71st Infantry Division of 3rd Army led by Lieutenant General George Patton. Dad was part of an advance team that waded ashore at Le Harve, France in the winter of 1945 to prepare “Camp Old Gold” for the 71st Infantry’s arrival. As part of the 5th Infantry combat team he served as a forward observer responsible for identifying, prioritizing, and calling in directions to strike enemy targets with 105 Howitzers. The 71st Division pushed the German troops out of France and well into Germany before heading south to secure positions in Austria.

As his division advanced, the 71st discovered the Gunskirchen Lager death camp, a satellite camp to the infamous Matthausen concentration camp, that was hidden in the Austrian forests. Dad and his 71st Infantry comrades saw firsthand the appalling evil of Nazi Germany’s 3rd Reich. They liberated the surviving prisoners, mostly Jewish Hungarians marched from their homes to Austria to serve as slave labor. Dad recalled to us his approach to Gunskirchen Lager after the Germans had fled. He found a prisoner in the forest who had summoned the strength to escape the walls of Gunskirchen Lager, stopping to sit at the foot of a tree where he breathed his last and died. Neither he nor his fellow soldiers were prepared for the horrors they found inside the camp.

After the war Dad stayed on in Europe and served in the Military Government of Germany, attending the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. He also joined the GI Symphony, touring Europe and bringing beautiful classical music back to people trying to re-establish their lives. He sold his rations of cigarettes (distributed to each soldier by the Red Cross) and used the money to purchase flutes.

On returning to the States, he returned to college, graduating from the University of Illinois in 1950 from their College of Fine Arts with a Bachelors in Architectural Engineering. He subsequently attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service earning a Graduate Diploma in Social Psychology and Political Science. Dad is a member of Theta Xi Fraternity and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He returned to active duty as a commissioned Air Force Officer during the Korean War serving state side as a psychological warfare officer. He left military service in 1953 as a 1st Lieutenant.

Dad began his professional career as a licensed registered architect with the national office of Perkins and Will Architects in Chicago, Illinois. He then began his own firm working for 10 years specializing in city planning, parks planning, and the design of school, municipal, church, apartment and residential buildings, including designing a beautiful home for his sister Marion and brother-in-law Harold in Harvey, Ill. Later in life he provided architectural design consulation for the remodeling of the Mount Vernon High School’s Little Theater, Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church’s Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall and the George Washington Park Pool.

It was in 1958 that Earl met Virginia Irene Bruggeman through a mutual friend. Their romance blossomed and on Valentine’s Day, 1959 they were wed by Reverend Simers at the Evangelical Church of Peace in Harvey.

In Harvey, Dad served as a planning commissioner, then as building and zoning commissioner and finally as an elected park commissioner. Both Dad and Mom were organizers of Harvey’s Community Concert Association in the 1960’s and 70’s, bringing major theatrical acts to our suburban town.

Dad and Mom wasted no time starting a family. John Layton Flanagan was born in 1959, Brett Lee Flanagan in 1960 and Julia Flanagan in 1961. With each child born 13 months apart, Mom liked to call us her “Irish Triplets”.

Dad and Mom arranged family summer vacations for us small children where each year we explored some place new, expanding our world. Even when finances were thin, they arranged wonderful vacations all across the Great Lake States: Mackinac Island, Glen Lake, Long Beach in Michigan; Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes where we kids ran and tumbled down 400’ feet of the largest sand dune we’d ever seen; camping at Lake Winnibigoshish, MN and the Dells in Wisconsin; a houseboat trip up the Mississippi River with Dad and Uncle Harold as captains behind the wheel. We even took a week long backcountry canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario, Canada… two adults paddling in 2 canoes with 3 pretty useless pre-teens – what were they thinking! The family memories built on these trips will be cherished forever.

Dad and Mom made sure we kids grew up in church. We faithfully attended the Federated Church in Harvey, including Sunday school, Kirk Club, and Vacation Bible School. Dad often played the organ for services. All of us heard the Gospel of Jesus and how we needed his salvation from our sins and what a good Savior he is. The fruit of their faithfulness is that today each of us know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Dad left private practice when he accepted the position of principal architect and advisor on Building Codes and Codes Administration to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Washington, DC Central Office. This led to our family’s move from his and all his children’s birth place of Harvey, Ill. to Alexandria, Va. in 1973.

His penchant for community involvement moved right along with him. When Brett and Julie became active in their high school band, he put his architectural skills to use refurbishing the concession stand at the field where they played. Dad joined them during summer band camp, assisting with instruction of the flute section and engineering shenanigans for band camp’s culminating event – skit night. One memory in particular was him dressed for a skit as a rather large bumble bee. His days at the Barn Dance had been brought back to life to the delighting his students.

Music was a life-long enjoyment for Dad. With his time given to work and family, being part of an orchestra was no longer possible, so he turn his attention back to his piano – a 1898 Steinway and Sons grand piano. Among Mom’s favorite times were when she would be fixing evening dinner while being serenaded by the works of Lizst and Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and Saint-Saëns, just to name a few.

One might think that an analytical mind like Dad’s would handle the emotions of such complex music awkwardly. But in Dad’s hands even the most complicated pieces came to life with deep expressiveness, each note understood and given life. He would sometimes say that his goal in playing was to enter the composer’s mind and communicate his intention. When asked why he often played a piece at a slower tempo than those typically heard in professional recordings, he responded that each musical phrase needed its own room to breathe.

Dad retired from his career in civil service with HUD in 1989. But he remained active in his community through serving as President of the Riverside Estates Home Owners Association, President of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizen Associations, Board of Directors for the Fairfax County Federation of Citizen Associations, and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, to name a few. He was named the Mount Vernon District Citizen of the Year in 2000.

In 2006 he was appointed by Mt. Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland to be the district’s representative on the Fairfax County Planning Commission a position ideally suited to Dad’s giftings and experience. He served on the commission for 12 years, retiring in 2018 at the age of 93. During his tenure on the PC, as throughout his life, Dad exemplified a leader who consistently held as his main goal the good of his community. He used his sound judgement, humor, enjoyment of people, and calm nature to work for solutions to land use, environmental and transportation issues. His boss, Gerry Hyland (a Democrat), saw these qualities and knew that he could trust Dad (a Republican) to work for what was best. This same faith and trust was placed in Earl when Supervisor Hyland retired and was succeeded by Democrat, Supervisor Dan Storck. The ease with which these leaders of differing party affiliations worked together is a model to follow today.

When the 50th Anniversary of Victory in Europe rolled around, Dad, as did so many WWII veterans, began to open up about his service. He traveled with Mom to Europe in remembrance, and at home began attending reunions of his 71st Infantry Division. At these reunions he met survivors of Gunskirchen Lager, like Louis Kest, with whom he formed friendships. Soon his eldest son, John, joined him for the reunions. Earl toured the Holocaust Museum and attended the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the Mall in DC, joined by his whole family. It was at the memorial dedication on the Mall that his daughter began to realize how much the sacrifice of these veterans of World War II meant to today’s veterans and that they had truly accomplished a victory that brought freedom to the world.

When he grew too old to travel on his own, John helped Dad make the trips. In his 80’s Dad began wearing a baseball cap showing his service and honors. As a result he met numerous veterans of all ages and branches of service eager to shake his hand or pay for his dinner as a means of expressing their gratitude for his service. Sometimes these encounters led to conversations with younger generations wanting to hear first-hand accounts of WWII.

When Mom took ill in 2016, it was a blessing for us to see Dad’s care for her and to hear him declare to her that she was, “the love of my life”, and through tears, “you saved my life”. He told us, “She was everything I looked for in a wife. She loved being a mom and mothering. Her
eyes lit up around children, no matter whose they were.”

Earl and Virginia waited a long time to see her first grandchild, Irene Julia Flanagan, born to their son, Brett and his wife, Karen Flanagan. They delighted in her arrival and getting to see her grow into a beautiful, capable and purposeful young woman. Dad was especially thrilled at the birth of his grandson, David, who would carry on the Flanagan name. Only 2 days before his death he attended David’s high school graduation celebration dinner.

Earl is survived by his three children, John Layton Flanagan, Brett Lee Flanagan and Julia Flanagan; by Brett’s wife, Karen Flanagan (née Kyong Hee Park); and his 2 grandchildren, Irene Julia Flanagan and David John Flanagan. He was preceded in death by his wife, Virginia Irene Flanagan (née Bruggeman) in 2016, his eldest sister Evelyn Flanagan Dalenberg (2013), his middle sister Marion Flanagan Belmore (2014) and youngest sister Lucille Flanagan Newhart (2019).

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Earl Layton Flanagan, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Starts at 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church

2001 Sherwood Hall Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306

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