William E. Clarkson Sr., a Kansas City construction executive and civic heavyweight in the 1970s and 1980s, died Friday, two days before he would have turned 91.
Clarkson served as president of Clarkson Construction Co., one of Kansas City’s oldest companies, started by Clarkson’s great-grandfather in the late 1800s.
His family said Monday that Clarkson’s health had declined over the last six months. No cause of death was given.
“To me, my family and co-workers at Clarkson and the others who knew him, my dad was a normal, unassuming, down-to-earth guy,” said Clarkson’s son, Bill Clarkson Jr.
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Clarkson graduated from Kansas State University in 1949 and would later join the family construction company, a prolific builder of roadways, highways and other public works projects in the region.
As Clarkson steered the company in the 1970s and 1980s, his name often showed up in the newspaper for his involvement in civic affairs in Kansas City.
He first started making contributions to local officials’ campaigns in 1964. But Clarkson wasn’t content just writing checks; he leveraged his influence by serving on several boards and commissions. Perhaps his most prominent appointment came as vice chairman and later chairman of the Jackson County Sports Authority while Arrowhead Stadium and Royals Stadium (later Kauffman Stadium) were funded and constructed.
He started service with the Sports Authority in 1966. Clarkson was part of a group, along with U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri, who sought a replacement Major League Baseball franchise when the Kansas City Athletics left for Oakland, Calif., in 1967. MLB announced a new franchise, the Kansas City Royals, in 1969.
Clarkson stepped down from the Sports Authority in 1974 when he moved to Mission Hills.
His move to Johnson County did not diminish his involvement in politics east of State Line Road.
Politicians who enjoyed his support over the years ranged from U.S. Sen. Tom Eagleton to Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes to Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, among many others.
Clarkson, his associates said over the years, did not expect favors in return for his political contributions. Rather, he liked the occasional consultation on appointments and other key decisions.
Clarkson’s civic involvement was prolific but not always successful. In 1988, he led a petition drive to change Kansas City’s charter to afford the city’s mayor more power and more pay.
Voters trounced Clarkson’s proposal in April 1989. He took the defeat in stride.
His son recalled the election party that evening: “After about 45 minutes, everyone around my dad is a little nervous.
“My dad went up and turned off the TV and said, ‘That’s that, we’ll fight something else,’ ” Bill Clarkson Jr. recalled. “He never took it personally.”
Clarkson is survived by nine of his children. He is preceded in death by his wife and two of his sons.