Legendary columnist for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune, died peacefully at her home surrounded by her family September 24, 2018. She was 94 years old.
Her extraordinary life started in Des Moines, Iowa, where from the time that she was 3 years old hanging around her mother’s dance studio, she dreamed of going to New York or Hollywood to become an actress on the stage or screen. She attended Drake University where she pursued a major in Drama. Those dreams were set-aside after a summer job in Minneapolis writing copy for the advertising department of The Minneapolis Times.
Her writing skills led to a promotion to the Minneapolis Tribune where Barbara began a nearly 45 year career as a reporter, women’s editor and ultimately celebrated columnist. During that time, Barbara wrote about historic preservation of the city, famous Minneapolitans and real Minnesotans past and present, movers and shakers in the community and ultimately just about anything that she felt strongly about.
While the column was not political per se, she did speak her mind, ruffled feathers with both local government and community leaders and ultimately became a forum for the social conscious of her beloved Twin Cities. She was probably most known though for her tireless efforts to introduce legislation allowing for sidewalk cafes in Minneapolis, the redevelopment of Hennepin Avenue, mandatory snow shoveling, and saving the Guthrie Theater. She rarely wrote about her personal life in her column although she frequently referenced her beloved schnauzers, Buffy and Tuffy.
In 1966, Barbara reconnected with Earl Sanford, an investment banker, when they were both living at The Towers apartments. Their first date was at The Symphony Ball In June 1966, and they were married shortly thereafter.
During their over 50 year marriage and through their business, social, and philanthropic endeavors, Barbara and Earl became one of Minneapolis’ “Power Couples” attending and hosting countless events that became the fabric of their rich lives together. A seat at their table at a Minnesota Orchestra after concert dinner party became a coveted invitation.
In the mid 1970’s, Barbara first inherited and then adopted Earl’s three children from his former marriage. Barbara raised Earl’s children as if they were her own and was a passionate and committed mother and subsequently a grandmother. As a mother she was tough but fair and opened doors to travel, art and culture that would not have existed without her influence.
Her children commented that while the world knew her as Barbara Flanagan who championed for beautification of the city and sidewalk cafes, to us she was simply Barb who loved to make casseroles and traditional Jewish holiday recipes, walked around the house in her Dearfoam slippers or got after us for leaving shoe forests around the house or not closing kitchen cupboard doors. Growing up she was of course a fountain of information and tirelessly encouraged us to follow our dreams and become involved in art, business, civics or whatever pursuit might make a difference.
As a former tap dancer, Barb loved old movies and in particular musicals. Her dream was to dance with Fred Astaire, perhaps the one thing that she did not accomplish in her amazing life. But through her column she interviewed and engaged hundreds of celebrities, politicians and world leaders and captured remarkable insights into who they were to share with her readers.
In addition, she authored three books, interviewed just about anyone important that visited the Twin Cities and always managed to find the Minnesota connection that tied everyone to her town.
Although Barbara retired from the newspaper full time in 1988, she continued to write her column on the first Sunday of every month under the moniker “The Flanagan Memo.” Here, she continued to use her pulpit to advance the causes that she had written about for so many years—we still need more sidewalk cafes!!
Earl and Barbara split their time between Minneapolis and Naples, Florida until they ultimately moved to Wayzata about 4 years ago. Barb was an avid reader and up until the end stayed active by reading three newspapers a day and several books per week. She LOVED Häagen-Dazs Java Chip, chocolate anything, and a good old-fashioned cinnamon roll “with hard cold butter” — and a nightly glass of Pinot Grigio!
A line from Garrison Keillor’s 1977 Barbara Flanagan Waltz sums it up. “After God made Miss Flanagan, He stopped and began again, and He hasn’t made one like her since.
So here’s to Miss Barbara — on land or on sea or in air — we love you.”
Barbara was truly a “one-of-kind” woman whose amazing life will have a lasting impact on her family, friends and community. Barbara is survived by her three children Anne Magill (Jim Magill), San Francisco, and their children Carlie and Erin and grandson James, Mindy Sanford, Minneapolis, and her children Elisabeth and Charlie, and Albert Sanford (Dorothy Wildman), Aspen and her niece Jaimie Sanford (Ted Storey), San Francisco, and nephew Guy Sanford, Sacramento. Barbara was predeceased by her granddaughter Grace Magill. Barb is also survived by her two best friends, Susan and Rita and her longtime trainer and friend Dan.
A celebration for Barbara and Earl will be held on Monday, December 17, at 5 pm. For details, please contact by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barb’s family would like to express profound gratitude to Mary Edwards and her team of caregivers, Living Life Home Care, and Kirsten Elston and her Allina Hospice team who helped Earl and Barb live a full life with grace and dignity until the very end. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to Friends of the Hennepin County Library to be used for the Barbara Flanagan Collection, American Swedish Institute, and Minnesota Historical Society.