Inez Y. Kaiser was a fierce fighter for black women in business, but her career didn’t take off until after she quit her job.
She stopped teaching home economics to become the first black woman in the U.S. to own a public relations firm, building a base of national and local clients. Along the way, her reputation grew: She pushed for minority women to have a seat at the table, advocated for greater civil rights and advised two presidents as part of a panel on minority women in business.
Inez Yeargan Kaiser, of Overland Park, died Sunday at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park. She was 98.
Visitation will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 2732 Benton Blvd. Funeral services will follow the visitation, and burial will be held at Mount Moriah Cemetery South.
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Her son, Rick Kaiser, said his mother was warm, kind and big on sports.
When Rick Kaiser was a kid, his mother would take him to watch the Kansas City Athletics. And when it came to the Royals, the Chiefs and the Jayhawks, “She knew who was hot and who was not, by name,” he said.
She was a ready counselor and adviser, Rick Kaiser said. She was also “a pain in the butt.”
“You didn’t mess with her,” he said. “She would harass you, badger you, hound you until she got what she wanted.”
When Inez Kaiser was going into a contentious discussion, her opponents knew they had to bring their “A-plus game,” her son said. She only stood 5 feet tall, but she was relentless when she thought she was right.
“You got to be ready for my momma,” he said.
Kaiser was born April 22, 1918, in Kansas City, Kan. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Pittsburg State University in 1941 and taught home economics in Kansas City schools. She later earned a master’s degree from Columbia University and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Lincoln University.
Rick Kaiser said his mother got tired of that job, so she quit and founded her own company in the early 1960s, becoming the first African-American woman to run a public relations company with national clients. Her first big account was 7-Up. Sterling Drug, Sears, Lever Brothers and others followed.
Kaiser told The Star in 2014 that she was with the GOP “because all the people who helped me get my business started were Republicans.”
However, Rick Kaiser said, his mother did vote for Barack Obama.
The trailblazing PR magnate and civil rights activist was also the first black woman to join the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. She founded Del Sprites, which helped disadvantaged black high school girls build themselves up, and she was able to help some of them with college scholarships.
In 1998, then-U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond praised Kaiser after she was named the National Minority Advocate of the Year for 1997.
“Dr. Kaiser has set a positive example for minority business people everywhere, and it is a pleasure to see her impressive accomplishments receive the recognition they deserve,” Bond said. “My home state of Missouri is extremely fortunate to have such a shining example of success and hard work.”
She was married for 58 years to Richard Kaiser, who died in 2003.
She also was the first black woman to join the Public Relations Society of America, and the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication named an award in her honor.
Rick Kaiser recalled the words his mother lived by, a quote from author Napoleon Hill: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Visitation for Inez Y. Kaiser, 98, will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 2732 Benton Blvd. Funeral services will follow the visitation, and burial will be held at Mount Moriah Cemetery South.