In the late 1980s, the land north of Kansas City’s City Hall was, to put it charitably, a mess.
There was an aging high-rise. Crumbling sidewalks. A weed or two.
Mostly, the space was occupied by parking lots, stretching as far as one’s sore eyes could see.
Today that two-block stretch of land is the Ilus Davis Park, a grassy, tree-lined mall that has redefined the east side of downtown. Lots of people worked to make the park a reality, but no one worked harder than Woody Overton, the longtime political figure who died over the weekend.
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Overton ran the General Services Administration during the 1990s. His work on the federal structures surrounding the park — and on scores of other federal building projects — changed the face of the Kansas City region.
The West Side FBI building, the federal courthouse that anchors Ilus Davis Park, the Robert J. Dole Courthouse in Kansas City, Kan., the headquarters for the Agriculture Department and Federal Aviation Administration are part of Overton’s impressive resumé.
Yet reducing Overton to his brick-and-mortar accomplishments does him a disservice. For more than three decades, he served as an adviser to some of the area’s most important policymakers: Tom Eagleton, Claire McCaskill, Emanuel Cleaver. Whenever the city’s movers and shakers would gather in the 1990s and 2000s, Overton was usually there.
He was helpful to reporters, too. He popped up on television all the time. There was chatter he might run for mayor.
Overton was a Democrat, and he thought and acted like one. Yet he never let partisanship interfere with his real mission, which was to make Kansas City a better place to live. At that, he succeeded spectacularly.
Mayors, council members, senators, movers and shakers come and go. Kansas Citians like Woody Overton are more rare and essential to our community. He is mourned by his family and friends, and he will be missed.