Houston Irving Flournoy, better known as Hugh, was born on October 7, 1929 in New York City, New York. He spent most of his childhood on Long Island with brief stints in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Flournoy was an excellent student and attended Garden City High School where he played in the band and managed the soccer team. In 1946, at the age of 16, Flournoy enrolled at Cornell University where he studied under Clinton Rossiter, a Cornell faculty member who was an authority on The Federalist. Flournoy was active in campus organizations and was a member of the Cornell University Glee Club, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, the Senior Class Council, and in the Air Force Reserve Training Corps. He graduated from Cornell in 1950 with a degree in government and proceeded to enroll in a graduate studies program at Princeton University. He entered Princeton as the holder of the Henry P. DuBois Fellowship in American Government and received a Master's degree in Political Science in June of 1952, the same year he was called for military service.
While stationed in Denver as a student in Combat Intelligence Officer's School, Flournoy met his future wife, Marjorie (Midge) Westerkemp. In 1953 the two became engaged, and shortly thereafter, Flournoy was shipped out to Taegu, Korea to serve a year's tour as a combat intelligence officer with a fighter-bomber group. Midge and Flournoy married in July of 1954 and together they had three children, Jean, Ann, and David.
Following his military service, Flournoy re-enrolled at Princeton University to pursue a doctorate degree in politics. During this time, he worked part-time as a Research Assistant in the Division of Legislative Information and Research of the New Jersey Legislature. In October of 1955, Flournoy became the Legislative Assistant to New Jersey State Senator H. Alexander Smith. He remained so until he finished his dissertation and received his Ph.D. in June of 1956.
In 1957, Flournoy took an Assistant Professor position in the Pomona College Department of Political Science and thus moved his family to California. He quickly earned tenure status and remained at Pomona College until 1960 when he decided to run for office. In 1960, he successfully ran for California State Assembly as a Republican Party candidate. At this time, members of the legislature only had to serve for half the year so Pomona College agreed to give Flournoy a leave of absence every Spring to go to Sacramento. Early in his Assembly career, he was recognized as an expert in the field of education and school financing. He served in the Assembly from 1961 to 1966.
In 1966, he ran for California State Controller. He beat out incumbent Alan Cranston for the position and served as Controller from 1966 to 1974. As a legislator, Flournoy supported a state land-use plan and a full-time air-pollution control board. He also advocated a larger state role in equalizing the funding of rich and poor school districts, in part by imposing a statewide property tax.
In 1974, Flournoy ran for Governor of California. He defeated the Lt. Governor Ed Reinecke in the GOP primary but lost a close election to Democratic candidate, Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr. Flournoy blamed the loss on President Ford's pardon of ex-President Richard Nixon which came just a few weeks before California's general election. This move damaged the political campaigns of many Republican candidates, even moderates such as Flournoy. Flournoy never ran for office again.
In 1976, Flournoy was appointed a Professor position at USC. He taught at the School of Public Administration (now part of the School of Policy, Planning, and Development) until 1993. He also served as a governmental affairs advisor for USC administration until 1999. In addition, Flournoy served on the boards of several corporations. After retirement he resided in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and Bodega Bay, California. Flournoy was a heavy smoker for years and developed emphysema. He died of heart failure during a flight from San Diego to Santa Rosa on January 7, 2008.