1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Life’s journey is a success working at what you love aided by family, mentors and friends."
Lee Flaherty, born in Nebraska, the youngest son of a farm laborer who abandoned his family when he was four. To support her three sons, Flaherty’s mother Frances (1906-1996) worked two jobs until she remarried and the family moved to Richmond, California where Flaherty’s stepfather taught him the value of character. Flaherty, at eight was selling newspapers at Kaiser’s Shipyards and then worked at a drugstore after school and on weekends for ten years.
When the Korean War started, he volunteered as an 11th Airborne Paratrooper and was an All-Service Middleweight Boxing Champion nicknamed “Flair.” He received an honorable discharge, went back to work at the drugstore, attended the University of California Berkeley on the GI Bill, graduated with a marketing degree and worked in Chicago for seven years. In 1964, Flaherty’s beloved stepfather died and his mother Frances mortgaged her home as a startup for his marketing agency advising him to work hard with pride, discipline, integrity and to always give back. He founded Flair Communications in a dilapidated 1883 building in a neglected neighborhood, repaid his mother’s loan and with TLC had her on a lifetime payroll.
The once dilapidated building is now known as Flair House, one of America’s Top Ten Creative Environments and the innovation center is named the Frances Room. Flair has won the most World Hall of Fame Awards, The Wall Street Journal named them America’s #1 Marketing Agency and they were the Agency of the Year twelve times. In an Interactive Media Poll, Flair was voted America’s Most Admired Agency with a 50-year record - Built To Build Brands 1964-2014.
Flaherty was a Marketing All-Star twelve times, Executive of the Year five times, Illinois Landmarks’ Council named him a Chicago Legend for revitalizing/naming River North and he was Chicago’s Towering Citizen twice. He was inducted into Chicagoland’s Sports Hall of Fame, is a Jack LaLanne Endurance Champion and a lifetime member of the President’s Council on Fitness & Sports. The City Council declared Erie Street Honorary Lee F. Flaherty Way and he was inducted as a Master Knight of Malta at New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Flaherty, graduating from Berkeley was advised when he reached the top he was obligated to send the elevator back down. In 1977 he founded/funded the Chicago Marathon, now one of the world’s largest raising $16 million annually for charities, 1985 founded Old St. Pat’s World’s Largest Block Party where funds built The Frances Xavier Warde School, 1999 created Cows on Parade Auction raising $11 million in funds and in 2001 created Paws 4K Dog Walk to help build their Clinic & Adoption Center. He dedicates his charitable endeavors to his mother Frances.
When asked about his Horatio Alger Award, Flaherty says, “I firmly believe in what the Association is doing to help deserving youth receive an education. It is also an honor to be associated with such a group of outstanding Members.”