Posts Tagged ‘Richard L. Berkley’

As many of you know, a great friend and promoter of Kansas City, former City Councilman Bob Lewellen, died May 18.


His funeral was held last Wednesday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in south Kansas City, where Bob lived.

Former Mayor Richard L. Berkley, who served on the council with Lewellen, gave the eulogy.

Here is that eulogy, edited slightly for length.

“Bob Lewellen was my friend. I feel very honored to be asked to speak at this service. What a great asset and now what a loss for his family, numerous friends and our entire community. Bob had a combination of many skills. He was a businessman and, even more, an entrepreneur. He was a politician and a very good citizen. He was an idea man and a very good one. He was a great promoter of the city. He was a sports fan, and he worked as a TV cameraman.

“He was a neighbor activist and a real estate investor. He was a humorist, a devoted husband and a great father. Many times, I would see Bob do what he thought was right or best for the city, even when it was not necessarily popular or to his political advantage. His motive was to improve Kansas City, spend wisely, try new ideas, be creative, use good business practices and search for new way to accomplish the objective.

“Another great characteristic of Bob was that he didn’t care who got the credit for an idea or new plan. He just wanted to see it succeed. When Congressman Emanuel Cleaver – then a city councilman – proposed a plan that had in it several different capital improvements projects of significance for the city, Bob supported what later became known as “The Cleaver Plan.” The plan was not inexpensive, and there was opposition to it.

“I am convinced that if Bob had opposed it, it would not have passed the council. But Bob, who, I believe, was thinking of running for mayor against likely opponent Emanuel Cleaver, supported it, knowing Emanuel would get significant good publicity as a result of the plan.

“Bob did what was best for the community – not what was best for Bob Lewellen. (Editor’s note: Lewellen did end up running against Cleaver, and lost to him, in 1991.)

“Bob, as we know, had physical problems virtually from birth, which were later made even more difficult as a result of an auto accident. Not once did I ever hear him complain about his situation. In fact, he had a quick wit and a very good sense of humor.

“On one occasion, Bob and I were having a meeting with a number of citizens who were concerned about problems that develop in working with the city. They mentioned one department head who they felt was difficult and inflexible. This department head was of German heritage, as am I. Without hesitation, Bob replied in a deep German accent, “He is on his way to Germany at this very moment to get more stubbornness lessons.” It brought down the house.

“Bob was very involved in improvements at the airport. He wanted to see more direct flights to other significant cities. He also worked on getting more freight traffic at the airport. We both came up with the same idea at the same time — after being in other airports — that we needed to have a more attractive and promotional airport by having large photographs that showed important areas of the city. Bob wouldn’t stop until that was accomplished.

“Bob devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the Leukemia Society. He told me once how many times he went to New York each year, and I was amazed. He did that for about a dozen years, maybe more. His time and effort had a major impact nationally for that organization.

“Bob was a tremendous sports fan. He worked with the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission. He again was novel in creating ways to get people involved. He generated the idea of creating honorary coaches for the NAIA Basketball Tournament, held each year in Kansas City. It was a big success.

“In his sports activities, I’m sure many of you knew of his interest but didn’t realize that at the Chiefs’ football games, the man in the tall chair with the TV camera, riding up and down the sidelines was Bob Lewellen. It was another unique way that he was involved. He loved it.

“His entrepreneurial skills were demonstrated by his involvement in developing franchises for Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Working with Block and Co., he was the initial operator of a company that eventually had over 50 locations in this area. He was also involved in a variety of other small businesses.

“After his service on various boards and then eight years on the council, Mayor Kay Barnes appointed him to the Parks Board, which is generally considered one of the most prestigious and important appointments a mayor makes. Bob did a great amount to improve an already-top-level Parks Department.

“He particularly appreciated and helped the zoo and the Friends of the Zoo. He was able to make sure the zoo had a carousel, primarily for the kids. And it was dedicated to Ruth (his wife, who died in 2007). That was great.

“Bob was someone I had a great deal of confidence in. We didn’t always agree, but I knew his motives were right and his thinking sound. He wanted what was best and would fight for it. He was a true citizen-politician in the best sense of the term. Because of Bob, we all have had a better quality of life, as will many in the future.

“Thank you, friend.”

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