James was born in Winona, Minnesota, on 20th April 1921; the son of James and Eulalia (née Meyer) Flannery. He married Joann Foster of Roanoke, Virginia on 7th September 1947, and had three children, Ellen Anne, Peter Foster and James John Jr.
James served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Second World War, stationed in France.
Upon returning to the U.S.A. he earned a B.S., M.S., and a Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. James lectured Geography for thirty-six years; eleven years at the University of Pennsylvania, then twenty-five years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he rose to the position of Professor of Geography, specialising in cartography.
He was a leading cartographer, and is cited in various cartography textbooks for his work with graduated circles on maps. He also received numerous awards for his teaching ability, and is honoured by a commemorative plaque at UWM (the result of being nominated by his students).
The James J. Flannery Sr. Map Library at UWM is named in his honour.
James died on 27th February 1987.
[his portrait is illustrated above; courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee]