Government & Politics

Dutch Newman recalled as a breaker of molds and champion of women

Newman’s campaign signs outside Visitation Church
Newman’s campaign signs outside Visitation Church

Democrats and Republicans, friends and family bade farewell Wednesday to renowned Kansas City political activist Dutch Newman at a funeral that featured a statement from Hillary Clinton and a eulogy by a U.S. senator.

Newman, 95, died last week, just a day before Clinton became the first woman to accept a presidential nomination.

Among those in attendance at Visitation Church at 52nd and Main streets were Sen. Claire McCaskill, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Attorney General Chris Koster, Mayor Sly James, former Mayor Dick Berkley, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Democratic attorney general nominee Teresa Hensley.

Cleaver began the service by reading Clinton’s remembrance.

"As the grande dame of Missouri Democratic politics, she spent her life working to lift others up and to give every person the opportunity to fulfill his or her God-given potential," Clinton wrote. "Countless Missourians are leading better lives thanks to Dutch’s leadership."

She also cited the barriers Newman overcame years ago as the "only woman in the room" when political insiders gathered.

Newman was known for her grass-roots work to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. In the early 1960s, she established the Westport Landing Democratic Club, which became the first political club in the Kansas City area to have a woman as its founder and president. She also founded the 5th District Women’s Democratic Club and served as president of the Women’s Federation Democratic Club of Missouri.

She was a delegate to Democratic National Conventions beginning in 1968, though she did not attend this year’s gathering in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, even in death, Newman was re-elected as the 5th Ward committeewoman by a 2:1 margin. She had held the post for decades.

Newman’s red and white “Goin’ Dutch” campaign signs were posted outside the church.

In her eulogy, McCaskill recalled Newman's history of walking with presidents, "but she stopped along the way with countless strangers." That included once replacing a bicycle for a little boy who had his stolen in Newman's neighborhood.

The senator said no one should confuse Newman's friendly demeanor for lacking a steel will. She was, McCaskill said, "one tough broad" who cajoled, mentored, scolded and hugged her way into people's hearts.

More than once, McCaskill said, Newman had white flowers sent to her home, which tended to arrive on her worst days and were always welcome morale boosters.

"She knew when to reach out and hold me tight," she said.

Newman was so well-known that she received phone calls from the likes of President Barack Obama and Vice President Al Gore when he was seeking the presidency in 2000. In Missouri, powerful male leaders in the Democratic Party got to the point where they would often ask, "Is Dutch on our side?" McCaskill recalled.

So many people are disgusted with government. But Newman still saw government as mostly comprised of good people trying their best to make the world a little better, the senator said.

In an interview afterward, McCaskill recalled how instrumental Newman was in booting the careers of politicians, such as Karen McCarthy and Annette Morgan, when women first began to fill the ranks in Jefferson City in the 1970s and '80s.

"There were a lot of women who got started because Dutch gave them confidence," McCaskill said. "The hard thing about going into politics as a young woman in the '80s or late '70s was finding the confidence. She just made you believe you could do it.

"There weren't a lot of men saying to women, `You can do it.' But Dutch was."

Something else Newman told McCaskill repeatedly:

"She always said don't wait for them to tell you it's your turn. Take it."