Longtime political science professor Burdett Loomis dies at 76; ‘It’s hard to imagine the University of Kansas – past or present – without Bird’
photo by: Contributed
Updated at 5:22 p.m. Monday
Burdett Loomis, a longtime political science professor at the University of Kansas and a well-known supporter of local arts, has died. He was 76.
Loomis, who had retired from KU, died Saturday at his home in Lawrence after recently being diagnosed with cancer.
KU Chancellor Douglas Girod, in a message to the KU community Monday, said Loomis, known as “Bird,” stood “among the giants in KU history.”
“It’s hard to imagine the University of Kansas – past or present – without Bird,” said Girod, who praised Loomis’ success as an educator, public servant and researcher.
Girod particularly noted the Washington, D.C., and Topeka internship programs that Loomis developed.
“These programs today stand among the best of their kind nationally,” Girod said.
Professor Patrick Miller, Loomis’ colleague in the political science department at KU, took over the internship program after Loomis retired and lauded the decades of mentoring that Loomis had provided to students.
“His students have gone on to be elected officials, lobbyists, public policymakers … people who have worked for governors or even presidents,” Miller said.
Miller lamented “the wealth of institutional knowledge about Kansas politics” that would be lost with Loomis’ passing.
Born in 1945 in New York, Loomis began his career at KU in the late 1970s and worked there for more than 40 years. Before that he worked at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison as a visiting professor, according to KU’s website. He also held positions as director of administrative communication for former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and as interim director of the Robert J. Dole Institute for Public Service and Public Policy from 1997 to 2001.
Books he wrote or co-wrote include, among others, “Republic on Trial,” a 2002 defense of representative democracy, and “The Sound of Money,” a 1999 examination of how special interest spending influences Congress.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Sunday tweeted that she was “saddened to hear of the passing of my friend Burdett Loomis.”
“Burdett was a fixture and a voice of reason in Kansas politics for decades, and a mentor to countless political science students,” she wrote.
Loomis was frequently cited in various publications as an expert on state and national politics. His column for Insight Kansas, for which Miller also writes, appeared about once a month in the Journal-World for a number of years.
“What I always found interesting about him was his expertise in the woods of Kansas politics,” said Miller, who described Loomis as “gloriously old school” when it came to political science, distinguishing him from the current data- and statistics-driven trend in the field and noting that Loomis actually personally knew the politicians he wrote about “extremely well.”
Longtime friend Alice Lieberman, a retired KU professor who met Loomis through politics, praised Loomis’ tolerance and ability to connect with people.
“Bird could talk to anybody,” she said. “He had his own politics, but he treated everyone with respect.”
On his Twitter profile, Loomis described himself as a “sort of retired political science professor,” avid art collector, enthusiastic tennis player and “a born-in-NY Yankee fan.”
photo by: Mike Yoder
In October 2020, the Journal-World published an article about the 19th century home and art collection that Loomis and his wife, Michel, own in Old West Lawrence. The couple hosted visiting artists from all over.
Of his love of art, Loomis said, “From the time we got married and had no money, we bought art. It’s absolutely enriched our lives both in terms of what we have on the walls … but also to get to know so many artists has been terrific.”
Lynne Green, the former director of Van Go Inc. who was a close friend of Loomis’, said Loomis was a “huge supporter” of the local arts scene, his generosity extending to institutions and individuals alike.
“I don’t know anybody else who gives to the arts in the way that he did,” she said. “He made this place so much richer. Someone like Bird Loomis is irreplaceable.”
In addition to his wife, Loomis is survived by a son, Dakota, and two grandchildren.
Services are pending at a local funeral home. The Journal-World will report additional details as they become available.