In Memoriam

Remembering Joseph P. Flanagan, Jr.

November 22, 2023

Joseph P. Flanagan, Jr., a retired Ballard Spahr partner who played the central role in creating the firm’s nationally recognized Public Finance Department more than 50 years ago and served as the Department’s first and longtime Chair, died November 18 at the age of 99.

Born and raised in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Joe lived in Lafayette Hill. He practiced at Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia for 38 years, including 33 years as a partner, before retiring in 1994.

Joe joined Ballard Spahr as an associate and was elevated to partner in 1961. At the same time, he was named Chair of the firm’s Public Finance Department—then newly created principally through Joe’s efforts. He served as Chair for more than a quarter century, leading the practice to significant growth in size and prominence. Now part of the firm’s national Finance Department, Ballard Spahr’s public finance practice is recognized as one of the top such groups in the country. 

Among numerous other professional activities, Joe served as President of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and was a co-founder of the Municipal Finance Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Business Law Section and served as section Chair.

“He was unquestionably the dean of municipal finance practice in the Philadelphia area,” said Robert E. “Bob” McQuiston, a retired Ballard Spahr partner and decades-long colleague and friend. “To his mind, there never was a problem for which a creative solution could not be fashioned.”

Bob remembers Joe as demanding of, as well as fiercely loyal to, his fellow Ballard Spahr public finance lawyers. Joe was “always immaculately dressed” and, together with his late wife, Liz, “they were a stellar couple,” he said.

Longtime friend and colleague Jere Thompson remembers Joe’s authoritative voice from when their offices were side by side.

“When Joe walked in a room, by God, you knew it,” said Jere, partner in Ballard Spahr’s Finance Department. “Joe was not an introvert.”

Jere came to admire Joe for his sense of humor, skill at bond lawyering, and enthusiasm for transactional law, municipal finance, and business development.

His colleagues noted how Joe—a tall, broad-shouldered Navy man from Northeast Pennsylvania—was a key supporter of Lila Roomberg and developed a close working relationship with her, a tenacious Brooklyn native who would become the firm’s first female partner.

Business development—getting clients and keeping them happy—was Joe’s forte, especially through his expansive network of business relationships and personal friendships. All his former colleagues said Joe possessed an exceptional knack for relating with people.

“Joe knew people all over the place,” said Kevin R. Cunningham, a former longtime Ballard Spahr partner who is now senior counsel with the firm. “He seemed to know everybody in Philadelphia. I always got the feeling that everybody thought very highly of him.”

After his undergraduate education at Princeton was interrupted by World War II, Joe graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 in the same class as former President Jimmy Carter, whom he knew well and later endorsed for the presidency. Joe’s Navy service was a lifelong point of pride for him.

“He was a colorful character, and he would use naval analogies and metaphors,” Kevin said, such as when a deal in trouble was headed for “rocky shoals.”

Following his retirement from Ballard Spahr, Joe served as a part-time arbitrator and on nonprofit boards, such as for the John Bartram Association, which preserves the memory of the celebrated horticulturist. Joe also stayed active playing golf, gardening, hiking, and enjoying time with family.  

Joe is survived by his daughter, Maureen Elizabeth, and a grandson, Joseph P. IV.

A Funeral Mass will be held on Saturday, November 25, at 10 a.m. at Saint Genevieve Church, 1225 Bethlehem Pike, Flourtown. Relatives and friends are invited to call from 9 to 10 a.m. at the church. Interment will follow at 1 p.m. at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Hanover. Memorial contributions may be sent to Plant a Tree or Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.