Oct. 14—David T. Flanagan, a Maine business icon who loved his home state and spent his life seeking to advance its interests by tackling diverse problems in energy delivery, higher education, government policy and nonprofit organizations, has died of complications related to pancreatic cancer. He was 74.
Most widely known for his 1990s leadership at Central Maine Power, Flanagan used his finely honed business instincts, Down East demeanor and dry humor to burnish the reputation of Maine's largest utility, skills that later made him a go-to turnaround specialist at other organizations facing challenges.
Flanagan's family released a statement Thursday through a spokesperson.
"It is with heavy hearts we announce the passing of David T. Flanagan," the statement says. "David loved the state of Maine and the indelible spirit of all Mainers, a characteristic he himself held so well to the end. Details of a memorial service in honor of David will be announced in the coming days."
Gov. Janet Mills expressed her sense of loss over Flanagan's death in a statement issued Thursday.
"David Flanagan was a proven problem solver; an honest trouble shooter; a corporate and community activist; an investigator of ice storms and institutions of higher learning; an expert on the Washington County economy, cyber security clusters, public reserved lands, utility deregulation, spruce budworm epidemics, public housing, early childhood education and ships in bottles," the governor said. "In our 50 years of friendship, I always saw in him the same spirit of adventure, inquiry and honesty as when we first met. His loss is devastating to me and to the state of Maine."
Flanagan was born in Bangor in June 1947. He was the eldest of eight children. He grew up in Bangor and Hampden before moving to Portland, where he attended Deering High School.
Flanagan graduated in 1969 from Harvard University, where he studied history and government. He went on to earn a master's degree at the University of London, Kings College, then attended Boston College Law School on a scholarship, graduating in 1973.
Interested in Democratic Party politics since his high school days, Flanagan worked on the campaign of former Maine Rep. Peter Kyros in the 1960s, as well as former Gov. Ken Curtis. He ran unsuccessfully for governor as an independent candidate in 2002.
LOSS FOR FAMILY AND MAINE
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, reflected on Flanagan's importance to Maine in a statement issued Thursday.
"David's passing is a tremendous loss not only for his wife, Kaye, and their family members, but also for the state of Maine," Collins said. "His life was defined by countless contributions to his fellow Mainers and to our country in his many roles as chief counsel to a Maine governor, CEO of Maine's largest utility, counsel for a U.S. Senate committee investigation, and president of the University of Southern Maine. No matter the challenge, David would use his leadership talents to make a positive difference."
Flanagan served as an attorney in the Bureau of Public Lands in the 1970s and was involved in Maine's landmark recovery of public lands from paper company control. He was chief counsel to former Gov. Joe Brennan in the 1980s.
Flanagan held many leadership positions in higher education.
He was a member of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1995; chairman from 1990 to 1991, during a major recession; leader of a 2009 task force on the structure and governance of the University of Maine System; board member and chair during the 1990s and early 2000s of the American University in Bulgaria; the 12th president of University of Southern Maine in 2014; and chairman of the Board of Visitors of the Muskie School of Public Service at USM from 2008 to 2014.
Flanagan's love for his home state was reflected in the diversity of his interests over the years: He served as chair of the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy; former chief executive and director of Preservation Management, Inc., an affordable housing management firm in South Portland; longtime advocate, along with his wife, Kaye, for the Augusta-based Children's Center; and was a member of various boards in organizations ranging from Maine & Co., a business development corporation, to MaineGeneral Health, a healthcare system in the Kennebec Valley.
He also was a partner in the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland.
LEADING A TURNAROUND
Flanagan was CMP's chief executive from 1994 to 2000, when he was credited with leading a company turnaround during a period of rising electric bills. He became a household name during the late 1990s for his role in restoring electrical service after one of the state's biggest natural disasters, the Ice Storm of 1998.
"David Flanagan was a friend, a leader, and a solid citizen of Maine — and, in the midst of a crisis, he was the partner you wanted by your side," then-Maine Gov. and now-U.S. Sen. Angus King said in a statement Thursday. "The Ice Storm of 1998 was one of the most serious challenges our state has ever faced — and during that perilous moment, David was tireless in working to help Maine people in need."
King said Flanagan's efforts during the crisis were so vital that "I once interrupted a live television interview to answer his call, with no hesitation whatsoever."
At the time, TV viewers able to watch television saw Flanagan, clad in work clothes, in the field talking to customers. Flanagan's visibility as a hands-on problem solver and CMP's dogged efforts elevated the utility and its president in the public eye.
Joe Purington, current president and CEO of CMP, said Thursday that Flanagan "was always steps ahead and always thinking about our customers" as the utility's top executive and later its executive chairman.
"He knew how important it was to put the customer first in any decision so that the benefits to Maine people were the most important consideration," Purington said in a statement. "David was humble with an amazing dry wit and very direct approach. He earned the respect of our employees — many of whom, like me, worked with him when he was first with the company — and he made an impression upon everyone he met."
RECRUITED OUT OF RETIREMENT
In 2020, CMP's domestic parent company, Avangrid, asked Flanagan to step out of retirement to help turn around CMP's most recent customer service and public relations woes. He served in the role of executive chairman until August, when he dialed back to become a senior adviser and make way for a new CMP president.
Flanagan's transition dovetailed with his public revelation, in an interview in August with the Portland Press Herald, that he was battling pancreatic cancer.
Flanagan said at the time that his condition and treatment had left him with low energy levels. Accustomed to working up to 12 hours a day, Flanagan said he was frustrated because he had to cut his schedule in half and mostly stay at home.
"The damn thing is, I still enjoy the work," he said. "I know how to do this. I wish I could do it more."
Even during the advanced stages of his illness, Flanagan was working. In a Sept. 19 column in the Maine Sunday Telegram, he set out his vision for a clean-energy future for Maine, which included Avangrid's New England Clean Energy Connect project.
Catherine Stempien, CEO of Avangrid Networks, said CMP was lucky to have recruited someone as talented as Flanagan.
"David had something to teach all of us and we are all better having worked with him," Stempien said in a statement. "He touched so many people and organizations in Maine, and we join all of them in saying that we will miss him, and we will do our best to honor his legacy in the way we serve our customers and communities every day."