Banker / civic leader / force of nature R. Crosby Kemper Jr. hated the Kansas City Star…
Kemper despised the newspaper so that six days after his January 2nd death, his obituary has yet to run in the Star.
That’s highly unusual. Because for someone in Kemper’s station of life it’s pretty much de rigueur for families to shell out big bucks to the newspaper for lengthy obituary ads to let everybody know all about the deceased’s accomplishments and where folks can go to pay their respects.
Don’t think for one minute it was an oversight.
Asked if a newspaper obituary would be forthcoming, a spokesperson handling media inquiries for Kemper’s funeral replied tersely, “That’s up to the family.”
Here’s my take on the matter and you can take this to the bank:
Kemper likely made it clear to his family that not one dime was to go to the Star period. Shoot, nobody even phoned in to get the Star’s 7-line freebie obit. Nope, Kemper wanted nothing to do with the newspaper and for more than a decade he made that abundantly clear.
I saw this as problematic, because Kemper continued to loom large in this town long after he’d officially stepped down as top dog at UMB 10 years ago.
In 2002, prior to Squire publisher Tom Leathers death, he scored a rare, extensive interview with Kemper then slapped it on the cover of his thinly distributed weekly.
Kemper did not disappoint.
He unloaded on anybody and everybody, including then KC mayor Kay Barnes. However the only way to get Kemper’s haymakers into larger public view, was to excerpt them in my column in the Star. Because by that time, Kemper wasn’t even returning my calls, although his ire was focused elsewhere at 18th and Grand.
One example of Kemper’s disdain for the Star?
Return with me to a sunny spring morning in April of 1994 in the Kansas City Star newsroom.
I remember it well.
The buzz among the senior citizen guards at the newspaper’s entry was that an enraged Kemper had charged the building and blown past security early that morning in a rage, searching for then editor Art Brisbane. The expressed purpose being to deliver an up close and personal butt chewing.
“He was an amazing guy,” Brisbane recalls. “The anecdote you are thinking of involved (business reporter) Joe Rebello and, as I recall, Crosby was ticked off about Joe’s article on succession possibilities at UMB. You might be able to find the clip but, as I recall, the article suggested that Sandy (Kemper) was favored by (his mother and Crosby’s wife) Bebe – and this was what Crosby objected to.
“He may have been delayed by the guards but we did set up a meeting for him to come in and complain. (Mark) Zieman was there. I was there. I am not sure whether Doug Weaver might have been there too – he was the business editor at the time. Crosby delivered multiple monologues, including one on how badly The Star had treated him over the years. I could see that he felt wounded by the paper and that this was a long-term thing. There’s not likely to (be) another Crosby any time soon.”
“As I remember it Crosby came storming into the newsroom and got escorted back to Brisbane’s office and was waiting for him to come in,” Crumpley says. “And I remember warning Art when he came in that Crosby was waiting for him in his office and him having a shocked look on his face. Hey, Crosby’s not the kind of guy you want mad at you, I’d have been shocked too.”
Rebello’s story had undressed the Big C and called him out for fibbing to UMB staffers the day before in telling them that UMB president Malcom M. Aslin had resigned.
“(Kemper) said he had to set the record straight,” said an executive who attended the meeting,” Rebello reported. “‘He said he had to fire him. He said Aslin wasn’t a team player. Another executive at the meeting confirmed that account. Both executives refused to be identified because they said they feared losing their jobs.”
Nobody, friend, family or foe dared to diss Kemper in his decades long hey day.
“Most bank analysts and United Missouri executives credited Aslin’s departure to friction generated by Kemper‘s recent reorganization of top management,” Robello continued, adding, “Kemper recently elevated his 28-year-old son, Alexander Kemper, to president of United Missouri Bank of Kansas City, a post that Aslin had held until then. He also sent his older son, R. Crosby Kemper III, to run the company’s St. Louis bank.”
Yep, there was no love lost between perhaps the most powerful man in Kansas City and the Star…even in death.