Kansas and the wider world of agriculture lost an icon this week with the death of Barry Flinchbaugh.
A Kansas State University agricultural economist, Flinchbaugh helped shape the nation’s farm policy for decades. According to Tim Unruh, of the Salina Journal, the academic "met every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, ... counseled several in the Oval Office, and cornered more than his share of lawmakers on Capitol Hill."
Unruh’s piece quotes an impressive variety of leaders who knew and respected the expert, including state Rep. Steven Johnson, former state Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey and U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.
But for all of his national influence, Flinchbaugh left a lasting impression on generations in Manhattan. He inspired and advised students, guided and prodded them, and spoke up repeatedly about causes important to him. In other words, his causes and his mission as an expert and educator guided a full, well-lived life.
What a lesson that is for all of us, especially coming off a divisive election.
Flinchbaugh certainly had the smarts and expertise to go into the private sector. Instead, he worked with people on both sides of the aisle and served the state and institution he loved. To some who prize profit above all else, this might seem crazy. But we all need people willing to step up and serve in this way. Not just for a year or two, no, but for decades.
And while it may seem a bit of a repeat, we can think of no better testimonial to sum up the man’s influence and spirit than that of Moran in Unruh’s remembrance.
"His authority on agriculture issues made him a trusted advisor to me and many prominent federal officials of both parties throughout his lifetime," Moran wrote in a statement. "More importantly Dr. Flinchbaugh was my friend. We met when I called him more than 30 years ago to ask a question about Kansas tax policy. Ever since, I’ve admired and respected (loved) him.
"He spoke his mind, told me what he thought and made me a better senator and person. His death is a huge loss to me and all of his many friends, and it is hard to find the words to capture a man revered by so many.
"There may be no Kansan whose company I enjoyed more."