Son of founder helped build country's largest sign company

  • James G. Flannery Sr.

    James G. Flannery Sr.

Published: 7/11/2008 12:05 AM

The name "White Way Sign Co." may not be a household word, but its signs, scoreboards and distinctive theater marquees can be found throughout Chicago and literally around the world.

Wrigley Field's famous sign and historic scoreboard, the Chicago Theatre's landmark marquee, the scoreboards at the United Center and Arlington Park - those are just a sampling of the signs that helped Mount Prospect-based White Way become the largest business identification and custom sign company in the country.

Even the millions of tiny white Italian lights that decorate North Michigan Avenue during the holiday season and light up trees surrounding Daley Plaza are provided by White Way.

Company officials now are mourning one of the business' driving forces. James G. Flannery Sr., the current chairman of the board and past president, died Wednesday. The longtime Barrington Hills resident was 73.

"We worked side by side, in tandem for 37 years," says Robert Flannery Jr., company president. "Right up until the end, he was involved and interested in what was going on."

Mr. Flannery's father, Thomas Flannery started the company in 1923. An Irish immigrant and electrician by trade, he founded it after returning from serving in World War I.

In 1960, Mr. Flannery joined his father and brothers in running the company after completing his undergraduate degree at Providence College and getting a law degree at the University of Miami.

During his senior year at Providence, he met a college coed from nearby Rhode Island College, Louise Murray, whom he later married.

"The reason the company was so successful was because they kept up with the times," Louise Flannery says. "They knew to continually look forward and go into using things like time/temperature units and message changers, rather than the old set signs."

Robert Flannery agrees, adding that company officials pride themselves on offering state-of-the-art electronics and computer capabilities with their products, as well as regular maintenance.

One of the jewels in its crown is the United Center scoreboard, with its eight-sided video replay screens and four matrix screens that provide statistics and other information.

At the same time, Robert Flannery points to the Chicago Theatre marquee that White Way built in the 1920s, and has maintained ever since, including replacing it in 1994, with a modernized version made to look like its predecessor, which ultimately was donated to the Smithsonian.

"Our logo is one that Jim coined," Robert Flannery says, "We're 'the professional one,' because we pride ourselves on perfecting impeccable service."

Along with his business leadership, Mr. Flannery held many board memberships over the years, including serving as chairman of the board for Columbus Hospital in Chicago and for Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle.

Besides his wife, Mr. Flannery is survived by his children James G. Jr. (Cynthia) Flannery of Lake Barrington, Kathleen (Johann) Merkhofer of Cary, Christine Flannery of Barrington, Elizabeth (Donald) Hughes of Naperville and Kevin (Danielle) Flannery of Kenilworth; and 13 grandchildren.

Visitation will take place from 2-7 p.m. Sunday at Davenport Family Funeral Home, 149 W. Main St. in Barrington, before a 10 a.m. funeral Mass on Monday at St. Anne Church, 120 Ela St. in Barrington.