Longtime local judge dead at 89

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Longtime local judge dead at 89
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By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)

Former Alexandria Judge Daniel Fairfax O’Flaherty died last Thursday at his home in Rosemont at the age of 89.

O’Flaherty served his country during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Forces and then served Alexandria in a variety of capacities for decades. He graduated in 1949 from George Washington University Law School and, at the age of 27, O’Flaherty was elected to city council. In 1956, he was appointed judge to the General District Court where he served for 42 years until his retirement in 1998.

Retired Chief Judge Robert Giammatorio worked with O’Flaherty for a number of years: Giammatorio’s father George grew up with O’Flaherty, both attended George Washington High School and George Washington University Law School and both practiced law in the city.

“At 5 or 6 in the morning, people would see Dan running from his home in Rosemont, down Russell Road and all the way to the courthouse on King Street,” Giammatorio said. “When we rebuilt the courthouse we had showers installed. He’d shower and put his robe on and go to work. In the afternoon, he’d do it all over again. He had a period where he’d bike, too. Lots of people would see him but weren’t sure who he was.”

Giammatorio said O’Flaherty was a “professional Irishman” and always in cahoots with his close friend Pat Troy and the Ballyshaners, a group created in 1980 to promote and preserve Irish heritage and responsible for the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“Dan was often grand marshal at the St. Patrick’s Day parade and he stuck a shamrock on everyone,” Giammatorio said. “He didn’t care if you were Italian or Jewish.

“The St. Patrick’s Day parade became a great part of his routine. He judged the dog beauty contest. He said to me, ‘What do I know about dogs? You know, Bobby, this is the toughest contest I’ve ever judged. This judging is much tougher than in the courtroom because the losers get really mad.’”

Giammatorio said O’Flaherty was a wonderful man and a great judge who was loved by everyone. Lawyers in the courthouse had a saying that O’Flaherty was the center planet of their universe.

Longtime friend and Alexandria’s Irish stalwart Troy described his first encounter with O’Flaherty. It was around the time that Troy had the idea to start a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Alexandria. He went to then-Mayor Charles Beatley and asked him how he could make it happen.

“Beatley said he’d bring his buddies to my restaurant later and we’d talk about it then,” Troy said. “In walked (former city councilor, mayor and U.S. Rep.) Jim Moran, Fire Chief Charlie Rule, Mayor Beatley and O’Flaherty. I don’t know who was over there running City Hall since they were all there in the restaurant.”

It was 1980 and Troy enlisted O’Flaherty to start a parade committee. The group felt the committee needed a name and O’Flaherty, the only one who knew any Gaelic, suggested they call it Ballyshaners.

“What does that mean?” Troy asked at the time.

“It means Old Towners in Gaelic,” O’Flaherty said.

“Now how perfect a name could that be!” Troy recounted. “He gave us the beautiful Gaelic name for our parade.”

Troy put O’Flaherty and another resident in charge of judging the dog show.

“I thought it was funny — you know, here comes the judge,” Troy said. “The man was so Irish. The first time I saw him I thought he was the most impeccably dressed man. He sat down in my restaurant wearing a dicky bow and ordered a bowl of leek and potato soup.

I thought to myself, ‘Who wears a dicky bow?’ I asked him where he worked and he said, ‘Over at the courthouse.’ He wasn’t arrogant. He never said, ‘I’m a judge.’”

Troy had fond memories of his friend, especially when it came to political advice.

“I’ll always remember when I decided to run for politics,” he said. “I told O’Flaherty I didn’t want to run as a Democrat or a Republican, but I would run as an Independent.”

Troy asked O’Flaherty for advice and he didn’t listen.

“If you run as an Independent you’ve got nothing,” Troy recalled him saying. “So I ran as an Indy and I get clobbered. He was right. It was a good laugh.”

Troy said O’Flaherty’s presence will be missed throughout the city.

“He was so proud of his [Ballyshaners] sash,” he said. “That smile on his face was radiant. He had a great happy laugh. It came from his heart.

“There will never be another Judge O’Flaherty. He treated everyone the same. He made these huge decisions as a judge but he was a gentle giant. He was an institution for our city and he will never be forgotten.”

O’Flaherty is survived by his wife Resa O’Flaherty and daughters Susan O’Flaherty Griffith and Lucelle O’Flaherty. His son Daniel F. O’Flaherty Jr. died in January at the age of 63.

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