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Walter W. Flowers Jr.

Kendall Gunter, Auburn University
Walter William Flowers Jr. (1933-1984), an attorney and conservative Democrat, served five consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and served on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate scandal. Flowers voted for two of three impeachment articles against Pres. Richard Nixon. After an unsuccessful run for the Senate, he remained in the Washington, D.C., area as an executive with The Signal Companies, a petroleum and aerospace conglomerate.
Flowers was born in Greenville, Butler County, on April 12, 1933, to Walter Flowers Sr. and Blanche Sutton Flowers; he had one brother. Flowers attended public schools in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1955 with a bachelor of arts and earned a law degree in 1957. After graduation, he was admitted to the Alabama State Bar and opened a law practice. From 1957 to 1958, he studied international law as a Rotary Foundation Fellow at the University of London in the United Kingdom. After returning to the United States, he joined the U.S. Army, served in an intelligence capacity, and was on active duty as a lieutenant for a year before resuming his law practice. Flowers married Beverly Burns, with whom he had three children.
A conservative Democrat, Flowers was elected to the 91st Congress in 1968 and to the four following Congresses until 1978. He succeeded Armistead Selden Jr., who had unsuccessfully sought a seat in the U.S. Senate. From 1968 to 1972, Flowers represented the Fifth District, which is made up of Colbert, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Jackson Counties and parts of Morgan County. In 1972, Flowers campaigned on behalf of friend and political mentor Alabama governor George C. Wallace, the presidential candidate for the American Independent Party. Flowers worked as the national campaign coordinator to help Wallace get on the ballot and continued to support Wallace during his many campaigns. In 1973, Flowers was redistricted to the Seventh Congressional District, which encompasses Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Pickens, Perry, Sumter, and Wilcox Counties and portions of Clarke, Jefferson, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa Counties.
Flowers is perhaps best known for his role on the House Judiciary Committee during its oversight of the 1974 proceedings to impeach President Nixon, who stood accused of obstructing justice in his attempt to conceal the origins of the June 1972 wiretap-burglary of Democratic National Headquarters. Hearings began in May 1974, with evidence against Nixon including audiotapes in which he discussed participating in illegal activities. However, a few congressmen believed the evidence was not substantial enough to impeach the president, and Flowers too agonized over whether to vote for or against impeachment, as most people in his district supported Nixon. Indeed, under considerable pressure during the hearings, Flowers was stricken by the recurrence of an ulcer that had first plagued him in law school. Ultimately, he decided that Nixon needed to be impeached, and because he was a persuasive politician who worked well with Republicans, he played a crucial role in convincing several of them to vote in favor of impeachment. Flowers voted for the first two articles charging Nixon with obstruction of justice and violating the Constitution. But he voted against the third article accusing Nixon of disobeying House subpoenas. All three articles were approved, prompting Nixon to resign the presidency on August 9, 1974. To Flowers' surprise, people in his district largely supported his votes for impeachment. In addition, Wallace claimed he shielded Flowers from more pressure by refusing to relay a request from Nixon to vote against impeachment. Flowers also served on the House Science and Technology Committee, where he promoted the development of synthetic fuels.
In 1978, Flowers vacated his House seat to run for a Senate seat left open by the retirement of John Sparkman; the House seat was filled by Richard Shelby. Flowers lost the Democratic primary race to Howell T. Heflin, a former Alabama chief justice. During the campaign, Heflin accused Flowers of being a political pawn in Washington.
After he left Congress, Flowers settled in the Washington suburb of McLean, Virginia, and practiced law. He also served as a lawyer and was the vice president in charge of government relations for The Signal Companies, Inc., an energy and aerospace engineering business that is now part of Honeywell. In 1979, Flowers joined the faculty at the University of Alabama as a visiting professor. In the 1980s, he was an executive with Wheelabrator-Frye Corporation, a Signals Company subsidiary focused on producing energy from garbage. In 1980, he helped found the National Council on Synthetic Fuels Production, a trade association representing companies that develop synthetic fuels and served as founding chairman for the National Council on Synthetic Fuels Production. Flowers suffered a fatal heart attack while playing tennis at his home in McLean on April 12, 1984, his 51st birthday. He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Additional Resources

Barron, James. "Walter Flowers, 51, Former U.S. Representative." New York Times, April 13, 1984; http://www.nytimes.com/1984/04/13/obituaries/walter-flowers-51-former-us-representative.html
Published:  December 2, 2014   |   Last updated:  May 3, 2017