Officials, former students mourn longtime KU political scientist

Burdett Loomis – Photo courtesy of the University of Kansas

by Jim McClain
Kansas News Service

Topeka — Burdette Loomis, a longtime University of Kansas political scientist affectionately known as “Byrd,” died Saturday at his Lawrence home just months after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. He was 76 years old.

Elected officials and political figures mourned his passing and remembered how he had inspired them as students during his 40-year teaching career at Kuwait University.

“I am one of thousands of former students working in government and politics because they took a class with him at Kuwait University,” Kristi Appelhans said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

Abelhans is a former reporter, lobbyist, and congressional staffer who now heads the federal Department of Children’s and Families’ Bureau for the district that includes Kansas and Missouri.

The Kuwait University president said the influx of comments demonstrated the influence of Loomis.

Kuwait University President Doug Giroud said: “Bird embodied Kuwait University’s mission of education, service and research. The outpouring of love and respect for Bird over the past day has been remarkable, and he underscores the impact he has had on the students, colleagues, elected officials, and journalists who have had the pleasure of working with him.”

Eric Valls, the Republican adviser who ran the 2020 campaign for US Senator Roger Marshall, said on Twitter that while he and Loomis agreed on little, “we had a lot of fun talking about horse racing.”

Another former student, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, described Loomis as a “respected commentator on Kansas politics.”

“We’ll miss him,” said Schmidt, a Republican preparing to challenge Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.

Before arriving at Kuwait University in 1979, Loomis was an assistant professor at Knox College, a small liberal arts school in Galesburg, Illinois. He received his bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in Minnesota and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin.

While at Kuwait University, Loomis twice headed the Department of Political Science and served as interim director of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Public Service and Public Policy. He also ran internship programs that placed students with elected officials in Washington, D.C. and the Statehouse in Topeka.

In 2005, he took a short break from teaching to work as a communications advisor to Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Former Topeka mayor Larry Woolgast, an old friend who and Loomis belonged to the breakfast group that met regularly to talk politics, described him as “warm, real, and sparkling.”

“He had a lot to give and he will be sorely missed,” Woolgast said.

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly joined others in saying Loomis’ vote would be missed.

“Burett has been a staple and logical voice in Kansas politics for decades, and a mentor to countless political science students at the University of Kansas,” Kelly said Sunday on Twitter.

For reporters, whether they were writing for the Washington Post or the Iola Register, Loomis was the right person to comment on Kansas politics, said Steve Kraske, host of the KCUR “Up to Date” talk show and former Kansas City reporter and star.

“He helped me understand the nuances of Kansas politics for 30 years and was always insightful — I mean always,” Kraske said, during a segment dedicated to Loomis on “Up to Date” on Monday.

After he learned of Loomis’ illness last week, US Democratic Representative, Charice Davids, took to the floor of the US House of Representatives to praise him as an “irreplaceable member of our society.”

“He has been a trusted friend and advisor to many officials in Kansas over the years and I am personally grateful for his guidance throughout my time in Kansas,” Davids said.

Loomis and Michelle, his 53-year-old wife, lived in a palatial home near downtown Lawrence that looked like friends with an art gallery. They often opened it to groups for receptions, book signings, and musical performances.

After his retirement, Loomis was busy editing books, writing columns with other political scientists for Kansas newspapers, and playing tennis.

In his latest Kansas Insight column, published August 9, Loomis called for a statewide vaccine mandate.

He wrote, “While the delta variant is needlessly wreaking havoc on our lives, it is time for the KS institutions to require vaccinations.”

“We have experimented with appeals of reason, we have used urges, and appeals to a sense of community,” he wrote. “Now we must push the unvaccinated hard to do the right thing.”

Jim McClain is a political reporter for the Kansas News Service, a KCUR-based collaboration with other public media stations throughout Kansas.

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