By Liz Butterfield
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — The aide walked into the giant sixth floor office of House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and presented papers to his boss. The two traded a few words, nodded and a decision was made.
Legislative aide and chief of staff William J. Flanagan has spent the past 21 years giving advice to Cox, and he also is known around the capital as Cox’s partner in the real representation of House District 66.
“(Cox and Flanagan) talk to each other like equals,” said fellow legislative aide to Cox, Kelly Gee.
Flanagan has a good 20 years on his boss, but age doesn’t seem to make a difference in their approach to policymaking.
“He gets my opinion, whatever it is. I can’t be a yes man, I know that,” Flanagan said. “I don’t stand to be reelected. He stands before the voters, and I don’t. I don’t forget that.”
Flanagan describes himself as mission-oriented and impatient. As chief of staff to the majority leader, he’s constantly juggling bills, office traffic, constituent relations and, of course, the needs of his delegate. From 6:30 a.m. to shortly before 6 p.m. daily, Flanagan works nearly nonstop managing Cox’s office.
Flanagan is quick and agile, darting across the room and onto the next task much faster than another man his age.
Only a handful of delegates have been in the House as long as Cox, and fewer still have kept their original legislative aides.
It’s as if someone forgot to tell Flanagan he’s supposed to retire.
“We always joke, my wife and I, usually as you’ve been around for a long time as I have things are supposed to get a little easier … (but) it’s more and more work,” Flanagan said.
Sessions are only six to eight weeks long annually, but Flanagan’s position as right hand to the House majority leader makes his work a full-time priority year-round.
Flanagan acknowledges some people criticize him for being impatient and wanting to get things done quickly, which only makes Flanagan smile.
“Maybe everybody doesn’t think we should be getting things done,” he said. “I want to get things done.”
Flanagan served in the Army and has held numerous policy and leadership positions for the armed forces community including Chief of Staff of the Defense Commissary Agency, and State President of the Military Officers Association of America. His passion on military issues is appropriate, given the large percentage of military families in District 66 and around Fort Lee. More than 37 percent of the households in his district have a veteran in the family or a member serving on active duty. Flanagan said Cox has introduced more than 100 bills addressing their issues.
But Flanagan’s obvious personal passion for military affairs does not interfere with Cox’s own agenda, Cox said, even though Cox has never held a military post.
“He tells me what he thinks. You know (he’ll say,) ‘Maybe that’s not the direction I think you want to go …’ That’s very valuable, and I think it’s lacking today,” Cox said.
Flanagan said he and Cox don’t have many disagreements, but each listens to the other respectfully.
Flanagan arrived in Virginia on Jan. 10, 1961. An ROTC graduate from Cornell University, he also received a master’s degree in food distribution and agricultural economics from the University of Delaware. The army based Flanagan in Virginia, but he served in France, England, Germany, Thailand and Vietnam during his 30-year service. He’s not the grisly war vet from the 1970s you would expect, although some more severe characteristics betray he wasn’t born and bred into politics.
In February 1992, Flanagan decided to retire from his armed forces job and volunteer for the George H. W. Bush re-election campaign, in which he worked as an election volunteer in Colonial Heights. Cox and Flanagan met during their work with the GOP in 1993. Cox later hired him as an aide during his third year in the House, and they’ve worked together for 21 years.
“We have the passion for some of the same issues,” Cox said. “We’re extremely close, I value him immensely.”
An exercise enthusiast, Flanagan hits the gym several times a week with his wife Diane to manage stress. Only age keeps him away from more vigorous hobbies like running and skiing.
Flanagan celebrates 51 years with his wife in February. Together, they have three sons and one daughter, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren living across the globe.
He plans on retiring “sometime,” but said so far he doesn’t have plans to leave Cox’s side anytime soon.
Cox said he values Flanagan as a longtime aide for his organization and relentless hard work.
“I don’t believe that there’s anyway that the success that I have had would be possible (without him)” Cox said. “He’s been instrumental in helping me and getting me there.”