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The political science department, University of Kansas, and the Lawrence community are saddened to hear about the passing of Burdett Loomis, also known as Bird. He was a great colleague, American and Kansas political scholar, international representative, local community activist, and patron of the arts. Bird was often interviewed in national and regional newspapers, television and radio programs for his insights into national and state politics. He will be missed by his family, colleagues, his students, and everyone who knew and admired him for his work at KU, in Kansas State government, and throughout the broader Lawrence community.
In 1974, Professor Loomis completed his PhD in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first teaching position was at Knox College in Illinois, but he was lured to the University of Kansas by the department of political science in 1979. Early in his academic career he wrote about the incoming cohort of congressional representatives, focusing more on individual orientations and behaviors than on the broader institutional structures and processes of Congress that had previously been stressed by Congressional scholars. His particular focus was on how a new generation of congress members sought to balance their responsiblilities to the local communities that had elected them, their family obligations, the interests of their political party, the institutional norms and customs within Congress, and their future political ambitions. He interviewed numerous incoming congressional representatives and their staffs over the years. Before Congress lapsed into the polarized dysfunction that is currently widely discussed and bemoaned, Bird stressed the declining civility in Congress and the shift from deliberation in pursuit of the public interest to strategizing in pursuit of partisan advantage. His research and numerous books contributed much to both professional and public understanding of the American politics. Professor Loomis authored American politics textbooks for use in the classroom. In collaboration with Professor Alan Cigler at KU, he produced American politics readers that were widely adopted in for introductory courses in American government. In the 1980s, Loomis and Cigler organized an edited book, Interest Group Politics, that examines the rising power and changing methods used by America interest groups. This became a biannual series, published in nine distinct editions between 1983 and 2015 and was widely regarded as the most important source on interest groups in the political science discipline.
Burdett Loomis was a dedicated and committed professor who first took over the supervision of an existing KU internship program in Topeka and then developed one the most important Washington internship programs in the Mid-West. In the 1980s, he cultivated relationships with Congressional offices and federal government agencies in Washington DC that opened opportunities for many internships for political science students; these internships launched the public service careers of countless students - not only from KU but those attending other Kansas colleges and universities - over the last several decades. Bird was one of the first recipients of the Kemper Foundation Teaching Award in 1996 for his work in establishing the DC internship.
In the 1990s, he got to know Senator Robert Dole and his staff, and he spearheaded an effort to make KU the repository of Dole’s papers spanning his political career. This was the beginning of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at KU. These initiatives helped establish the Institute at KU and led to Bird becoming its interim director between 1997-2001.
Professor Loomis served as chair of the political science department from 1986-1990 and 2003- 2004. In 2005, he became the Director of Administrative Communication for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. At this stage of his career, he focused more on Kansas politics and the relationship between state and national politics. He worked closely with the governor and legislators across Kansas. Subsequently, he became a frequent political commentator for local and regional news agencies. In 2014, Loomis received the Steeples Award for Distinguished Service to Kansas.
Although he was an American scholar, Loomis travelled around the globe as a lecturer on American government for the US State Department. Between 1990 and 2012, he visited Brazil twice, West Indies, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Iraq, Taiwan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Subsequently he became a Fulbright Scholar in Australia. He loved to visit other countries and cultures, and he incorporated his international experience into his American politics classes at KU.
Burdett Loomis was a community activist. He was one of the leaders of a community group that sought to stop various downtown Lawrence mall development projects in the 1980s; such efforts successfully saved downtown Lawrence. He was also a leader in the Old West Lawrence neighborhood association. He was involved with the development of downtown Lawrence for decades, investing in such Lawrence iconic businesses as Free State Brewery and Wheatfields Bakery.
Burdett and his wife Michel Loomis are strong supporters of the arts in Lawrence and Kansas. He served on the board of the Spencer Museum of Arts at KU and even curated a show in 2012 titled “Politics as Symbol/ Symbol as Politics.” He worked closely with the Lawrence Art Center for decades and has been a supporter of VanGo, an art-based, social service agency that employs at-risk youth. Their renovated home in Old West Lawrence is often regarded as a local “museum,” filled with works from many artists, especially those from Kansas and the Midwest. They also opened their home for resident artists to stay while they displayed their work at the Lawrence Art Center or the Spencer Museum.
Burdett Loomis had a love of life and he enjoyed his family and the arts as well as his public service, teaching, research and international travel. He is survived by his wife Michel Loomis, his son Dakota, daughter in-law Krystal, granddaughter Georgia, and their newest granddaughter, Merribelle.
Protest and coercion data (28 European countries from 1980 through 1995) created by Prof. Ron Francisco