Bloom Where You’re Planted: A Salvationist’s PA Roots Yield Tournament of Roses

IMG_0718When William B. Flinn (Bill to his friends) spoke to the head coaches of Penn State and USC before the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day, he had to chuckle. It was the CEO and Executive Director’s last Rose Bowl Game before retiring from The Tournament of Roses Association, and an amusing reminder of his past, versus his present and future. One team hailed from the state of his birth and youth, the other from the place where he built his life. “God has a sense of humor,” said Bill.

Bill is a fourth-generation Salvationist, born in Philadelphia and raised by his officer parents in small communities throughout the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division. His roots trail all the way back to Western Pennsylvania and a 12-year-old paperboy who met a Salvation Army officer, turned his life over to God, and became a commissioned officer at age 15. That boy grew up to be Bill’s grandfather, Bernard E. Flinn, who rose through The Salvation Army ranks and was a faithful corps officer for 50 years. His grandfather’s example of service to community is still being passed down to his descendants. In fact, Bill’s second cousin is Robert Myers III, the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division’s director of Emergency Services. On his maternal side, Bill’s first cousin is a retired Major Ken Wilson who resides in Lancaster.

A talented musician, in his late teens Bill found his rhythm as director Pendel Brass and Singers and studied music at Temple University. Bill determined that music would always be a part of his life, but perhaps not his ideal career path. As a young boy, he’d had his first lesson in media relations 101 when he accompanied his father to the Pottstown Mercury newspaper. He watched and listened as his father pitched story ideas about The Salvation Army and community events to the editor. Bill’s talent and experience seemed in tempo with a job in public relations.

“When you are a music leader, you are communicating and bringing people together to achieve something they cannot achieve on their own,” said Bill. “Similarly, public relations is all about communication and collaboration.”

Bill gained foundation-building skills and experience working for The Salvation Army’s Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division Service Extension Department. Later, he transitioned to public relations at division headquarters where he continued to develop his professional expertise.

“Growing up in a Salvation Army family, I saw everything the Service Extension Department did to meet human needs in small communities like Honesdale, Coatesville, and Boyertown,” said Bill. “Every experience with Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, and creating auxiliaries and campaigns gave me a framework and foundation that helped me in my career.”

On a whim, he decided to apply for a public relations internship in Los Angeles. With the encouragement of his mother, he bought a one-way ticket to California and never looked back. Bill soon found public relations work he enjoyed as Director of Public Relations for The Salvation Army of Southern California, and fellowship at Tabernacle Corps. When he was asked to direct The Salvation Army band to march in the annual Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, he rose to the occasion. Soon after, he joined the Tournament of Roses Association and was a parade volunteer. When the association was looking for a new director of public relations, Bill applied, and was hired.

TOR Photo
Bill Flynn

During his 36 years with the Tournament of Roses Association, Bill’s career blossomed. He held multiple leadership positions, serving as the Association’s first Director of Marketing, and eventually, CEO and Executive Director. His leadership positions required talents and aptitude for communicating and bringing people together, whether it was at the negotiating table with ESPN Worldwide Television, or meeting with two U.S. Presidents, movie stars, and Olympians.

Bill is quick to add, however, that his career is only about what he has done, and not who he is. “I’m a Christian saved by grace. I’m a Salvationist, son, grandson, husband, father, grandfather. Those are the things that define me.”

Bill is looking forward to retirement, though he will remain active with consulting work and serving on four different boards, including chair of the Governance Board of The Salvation Army Training College of Western Territory. He is also the first lay person Salvationist to sit on The Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board. Music remains an important part of his life and Bill will continue as bandmaster of the 42-piece Salvation Army Pasadena Tabernacle Corps.

Retirement will also provide Bill with more time to spend with his family. Bill’s wife, Catherine, a fourth-generation Salvationist herself, is an accomplished nurse educator. Their son is a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Daughter Meredith has followed in her father’s footsteps both professionally and musically. Meredith and her husband are also new parents to Madeline Rose, Bill and Catherine’s first grandchild.

Married for 38 years in May of this year, Bill and Catherine, who coincidentally share the same first names as The Salvation Army’s founders, William and Catherine Booth, have a plaque in their home that reads, “bloom where you’re planted.” It’s a message that speaks to both the life they built together in Pasadena, and their Salvation Army Roots.

“My mother often said, ‘You have an obligation to leave more than you received,’” said Bill. “If the Lord is gracious enough to give us another day, what are we going to do with it?” For Bill Flinn, the answer is: bloom.

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