This week, let’s take a timeout from the fledgling 2016 presidential race and all the controversy in Topeka and Jefferson City to tip our caps to Woody.
Woody Overton, that is, the man who worked with Democrats and Republicans to ensure that Kansas City remained a federal regional center, who built big buildings downtown and who was a quiet but marvelously effective behind-the-scenes power.
Sometimes it’s the person in the background who gets the most done. Woody was that guy.
He was a gentleman to boot, a throwback to a time when members of both parties understood that big things got done by linking arms.
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This week, partisans, friends and family came together to celebrate his retirement. Mayor Sly James was there. So was former U.S. senator Kit Bond, Kansas City council members and City Manager Troy Schulte.
They should have been there, considering how much city-building Woody accomplished. Consider some of his greatest hits during his eight-year tenure in the 1990s as head of Kansas City’s General Services Administration. There he oversaw construction of the federal courthouse downtown and a nearby transportation building.
The Ilus W. Davis Civic Mall near City Hall? Overton got that done with a not-so-Woody-like threat to city leaders who were dawdling on their end of the deal.
He built an FBI office and an ag department complex and in Kansas City, Kan., another courthouse and the nearby Environmental Protection Agency headquarters.
There were lots of other buildings too. Any fear that the federal government might pack up and move its regional agencies to Denver or Dallas melted away, thanks to Woody’s hustle.
He was a Tom Eagleton man, an aide to a U.S. senator Woody still reveres as the embodiment of class. In his own quiet way, Woody carried on the Eagleton legacy, connecting people and getting them into the White House or a senator’s office.
Clout in politics means getting your calls returned. Woody always had his calls returned.
In 1992, he ran the Bill Clinton-Al Gore campaign in Missouri, a state seen as a must-win by the Democrats. Woody quashed intraparty feuding, visited every campaign office in the state and helped Clinton carry Missouri by 10 points.
There’s another reason such a big crowd gathered for Woody’s retirement. He’s just a good guy. As one attendee said, you wish there were more of them in politics these days.