Government & Politics

Former Johnson County congressman Larry Winn Jr. dies at 98

Larry Winn Jr.
Larry Winn Jr.

Former U.S. Rep. Larry Winn Jr., whose time in Washington spanned five presidencies, died on New Year’s Eve at age 98.

From 1967 to 1985, the Johnson County Republican represented the suburban Kansas City congressional district now held by U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder.

“He was a public servant when public servants did public service. … He’d probably be considered one of these dreaded moderates now,” said Larry Winn III, 74, the former congressman’s oldest son.

Edward Lawrence Winn Jr. was born in Kansas City in 1919. He had been a talented athlete at Southwest High School, but his athletic career was cut short at 16 when a boating accident on Lake Lotawana cost him a leg.

He earned a journalism degree from the University of Kansas in 1941 and forged a successful career as a builder before being elected to Congress. During World War II, he worked in a B-25 bomber factory in Kansas City, Kan.

“He really loved this community, both sides of the state line, and really contributed to it. We should all be so lucky,” said Winn III, a retired attorney who lives in Overland Park.

Winn III emphasized that his father and mother, Joan, developed friendships on both sides of the aisle during their 18 years in Washington. They often held cookouts with Democratic members of Congress on the weekends.

“And once you did that it’s pretty hard to go on Sunday TV and badmouth them all,” Winn III said. “It’s a commuter Congress now ... and I think that’s something that he attributed to the so-called gridlock in Washington. I think a lot of them don’t literally know each other.”

Doug Winn, a 71-year-old consultant who lives in Fairway, said his father will be remembered for his constituent services.

“Helping people who came to the Washington office and came to the KCK office,” Winn said. “Not that he didn’t legislate, but he thought constituent services were highest on his list of his priorities. ... If they had problems with the bureaucracy, he and his staff were there to help.”

Dick Bond, a former president of the Kansas Senate who spent 18 years as Winn’s chief of staff, agreed.

“He was always out here working and meeting and responding to his constituents,” Bond said.

Winn explained his philosophy about the importance of constituent work in a 1982 interview with The Star.

“A lot of guys forget that we’re public servants,” he told the newspaper. “Elected officials are not sent back here to be great legislators. Some do turn out that way. But I think, No. 1, we’re here to help and represent the people at home.”

In addition to his focus on local matters, Winn delved into global affairs. He spent 14 years on the House Foreign Relations Committee and served as congressional ambassador to the United Nations in 1977.

Bond praised Winn’s ability to work across party lines during a time when Democrats held majorities in Congress.

“He was congressman at a different when we kind of liked each other,” Bond said. “Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, talked to each other, worked together, knew each other’s families. It was a completely different time. Hate had not become part of the political structure.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican whose time in Congress overlapped with Winn’s tenure, said in an email that he “always admired Congressman Winn and am lucky to have called him a friend.”

“He worked hard, knew his Third District constituents well and represented them with honor and distinction in Washington, D.C. Franki and I offer the Winn family our thoughts and prayers,” he said.

Yoder, who was elected to Winn’s old seat in 2010, called him “a mentor whom I admired and could always count on for advice and counsel on how to best represent the Third District in Congress, as he did proudly for 18 years. I will certainly miss him, but I take comfort knowing he has been reunited with his beloved wife Joan.”

Winn met Joan Elliott during his time at KU. She died in 2015 after 73 years of marriage.

Winn is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and sixteen grandchildren. A fifth child, Robert, died in 1983, which contributed to Winn’s decision to leave Congress two years later.

“I think that played a big role in his deciding to retire then,” Winn III said. “He wanted to spend more time with family and grandkids.”

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at Country Club Christian Church in Kansas City. The family requests contributions to the Heart of America Boy Scouts in lieu of flowers. Winn, who had been an Eagle Scout as a teenager, remained heavily involved with the organization after he left politics.

Lindsay Wise, The Star’s Washington correspondent, contributed to this report.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3