Kansas City celebrates the life of R. Crosby Kemper Jr.

01/09/2014 12:41 PM

01/09/2014 9:24 PM

Kansas City paid its respects and said its farewells to banker, philanthropist and civic leader R. Crosby Kemper Jr. on Thursday at a public celebration of his life.

About 900 people, including family, attended the service at the Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, organizers said. The morning event easily filled the pews in the cathedral and most of the chairs inside Founders’ Hall, where the ceremony was displayed on big screens.

The Rev. Michael Shaffer, a nephew by marriage, delivered the homily, although he told those assembled that he had questioned Kemper’s choice as they met to go over the plans for the day.

“Well, that conversation went just as you guessed, given that I’m standing here,” Shaffer said.

And then he quoted Kemper: “I can assure you you will not be the only person in the room of whom I’ve asked a favor.”

Shaffer said the 6-foot-7 Kemper was well known for his “booming voice” and “physical bearing … yet underappreciated for his caring and loving heart of equally large measure.”

Thursday’s turnout reflected Kemper’s three decades at the helm of UMB Financial Corp., his 1982 financial rescue of Kansas City’s symphony, his co-founding of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and gifts to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, his support for the region’s agricultural base, and many other gifts and labors.

Since Kemper’s death last week at 86, his beneficiaries, institutions and individuals alike, have praised his role in their successes.

“The family is humbled by the breadth and depth of the expression of condolences,” Shaffer said.

In his preparation for death, Kemper had confirmed his Episcopal faith and reflected on his life, Shaffer said. Some regrets. Some mistakes. But he had done his best.

“I’ve stuck my neck out a time or two,” Shaffer quoted Kemper to say. “But that’s what leadership is about. I don’t think it can be done any other way.”

“I know I’m in the hands of God, and that’s a damned good place to be,” Kemper had told Shaffer.

At the celebration’s end, a string quartet from the Kansas City Symphony played “America the Beautiful” as Kemper’s flag-draped casket was carried out to a private burial ceremony.

A public reception followed Thursday afternoon at the Kemper Museum.

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