Sidney Louis Willens
December 13, 1926 – June 8, 2018
Sid Willens always loved to see his name in the newspaper—today not so much. On June 8, 2018, Sidney L. Willens, age 91, passed away peacefully and rejoined his beloved wife of 52 years, Lorraine, who died in 2005. A celebration of Sid’s remarkable life will be held at Temple Beth Torah, 6100 West 127th, Overland Park, KS 66209 on Sunday, June 17, 2018 at 10 a.m. His longtime friend and advocate for social justice, Rabbi Mark Levin, will officiate. Private interment.
Born December 13, 1926 in Kansas City, MO, the only child of Louis and Esther Willens, Sid earned his Eagle Scout at age 15, graduated Paseo High School at 16, became a “hard way” Sachem in the Tribe of Mic-o-Say at 17, served in WWII at 18, graduated the University of Kansas City School of Law at 21, married Lorraine at 25, and made partner at Tucker, Charno, Willens & Jouras at 29.
With these early achievements under his belt and with his mother Esther and wife Lorraine by his side for support and inspiration, Sid was ready to take on injustice wherever he found it.
Sid worked hard to become an attorney, but he was really a journalist at heart. A wordsmith, he typed his own one-page letters advocating his demands and recommendations for social and individual justice. Sid spared no expense when it came to postage, envelopes and photocopies. His carefully chosen words were addressed to the decision-makers, but his genius was in what he typed at the end of each letter: “cc: the press, news outlets and interested public citizens.” No elected or appointed official could take the chance of ignoring Sid’s letters without being held accountable by who knows whom. Combining that strategy with good ideas, concrete suggestions, and an attorney’s use of facts and persuasive arguments, Sid created substantial positive change for our community. With Sid, no committee was necessary to solve a problem. His power came only from being a private citizen without any desire for secondary political or financial gain.
Sid’s accomplishments were many. A few that he was most proud of: He successfully defended victims who suffered the double indignity of police brutality and bogus cover-up charges; he helped establish the Office of Citizen Complaints with the KC Police Department; he helped create the Jackson County Office of Human Relations and Citizens’ Complaints and was its first chairman; he introduced the ombudsman concept to Missouri; he championed and authored Missouri’s first Crime Victim’s Compensation Law; he obtained a $1.6 million dollar three-year federal grant creating police-social worker teams to help at-risk children at the moment they entered the justice system; he persuaded the KC Municipal Court to create a specialized housing court to deal with blighted properties and absentee landlords; he led the effort that won a $259,000 federal grant for a pilot program creating monthly house maintenance reserves assisting low income residents with home repairs to prevent neighborhood blight from taking root; he persuaded the Jackson County Circuit Court to create separate waiting rooms for victims/witnesses and the defendants against whom they were to testify; he was the regular Kansas City Times/Star book reviewer on the law and the court system with his reviews becoming springboards for his civic causes and crusades; he wrote The Handbook of Negotiation at the request of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America for its use in investigating and resolving complaints and conflict; he and Walt Bodine created and organized the Watch Program which, during the 1976 Republican National Convention in KC, placed 435 volunteers around the clock at potential flash points between police and demonstrators; he led the fund-raising effort that established the H. Roe Bartle Memorabilia Exhibit at Bartle Hall; he was one of the regular Friday “Hell-Raisers” on Walt Bodine’s KCUR radio show during which he advised callers on methods and strategies to effectively advocate for themselves; and, in an amusing and successful demonstration of “chutzpah” and perseverance, Sid, a Jew, turned a “person-to-person” phone call to Pope John Paul II into a Vatican audience with his Eminence and his Catholic wife, Lorraine. The story appeared in newspapers worldwide.
Sid’s awards and honors are numerous and Sid is not one to “toot his own horn” anyway. Still, his professional colleagues have honored him with, among others, the Missouri Bar President’s Award, the Missouri Bar’s Pro Bono Award, UMKC’s Law School Alumni Award, and UMKC’s Practitioner of the Year award.
To those who knew Sid best, all truthfully marvel at his ability to balance and combine successful civic activism, the practice of law and being the greatest husband, father, son and provider anyone could wish for. Sid’s positive impact on so many people’s lives and in such individualized ways made for a life well-lived. No one could ask for or deserve a better legacy.
Sid is survived by his three children: Mark Willens (Cathy), Linda (Kevin) Myres, Susan (Andy) Ortbals; and grandchildren Sara Glass, Aaron (Erin) Ortbals and their son, Jameson, Adam (Nadia) Glass, Rachel (Tom) Ryan, Brianna Ortbals, Elizabeth Willens, and Chloe Ortbals.
All of Sid’s family honor and salute him. His shoes will be difficult to fill, but they have blazed a path for all of us to emulate and follow.
While a donation in Sid’s name would be welcome, he would prefer you find your own cause and spend your time and money fighting for it. To inspire you further, please view a documentary about him titled “The Hellraiser-The Legacy of Sid Willens, Activist Lawyer” that has been posted on YouTube at https://tinyurl.com/hpvceu6. Sid would be pleased knowing that he sparked in you a desire to raise a little hell of your own.
Sidney Louis Willens
June 15, 2018
Year after year, Sid Willens was my guiding light. Anything he wrote in the paper was the only important thing in the paper. He knew everything and he explained it to us, the ultimate luxury was to have someone tell us the whole truth.
Then he quit writing. I have been so much poorer. Sometimes someone will say something important but it's by chance now; we could count on Sid Willens. I always wished I knew him but his being there was all that really counted.
My friend, Harvey Fink, was in the same era and knew everything. Was that time unique or were there similar people before them? Sadly, I don't see it now but no one now is working as hard as Sid or Harvey did.
The world is a poorer place. I feel very poor because I know what we lost.
June 15, 2018
I have always admired, respected and deeply cared for Sidney. He was my Sunday school teacher and I served with him in the Boy Scouts. He raised 3 children who I have the privilege of knowing and they all, in their own ways, reflect Sid's deep rooted values. I view his passing like the falling of one of the largest oak trees in the forest of humanitarians who helped shape Kansas City's best values. Hats off to a life well lived!
June 14, 2018
I met Sid when I was fresh out of law school. He immediately got me involved in a case of alleged police brutality against three young African-Americans. He appealed to the good in everyone and believed that there was good in everyone. He was instrumental in getting a new jail approved in 1979, the one that is now under intense scrutiny. We need him again. There are few like him. I wish there were more.
john francis golden
June 14, 2018
In 1995 I was applying for a job with Wal-Mart they were building a million square foot distribution center in Ottawa Kansas.
I told Sid about it and in my behalf he wrote a letter to the secretary at the corporate office in Bentonville Arkansas telling them I would be a good candidate for the job.
I got the job and worked there 17 years.
I loved talking with him at the "Golden" Family picnic at Smithville Lake especially the last one.
He loved my mother and Dad and would always said it to me when we met.
He loved talking with my dad when they were downstairs at his house.
He is going to be missed at the next picnic.
my sympathy to the family
John Francis Golden
June 13, 2018
My thoughts are with all of you as you celebrate Sid's life. He left good behind him wherever he went. I met him while working at the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office in the 1980s, and later enjoyed his Hell Raising segments on KCUR. Sending my best to Mark, Rachel and Elizabeth.
Cynthia Wendt (Fehr)
June 13, 2018
Sid never forgot that my mother called him a "dummy" when they were kids. She loved him dearly. He loved her back and was always kind to our family. Sid inspired us all. He was one in a million.
Sending love to the family.
Pola Zenitsky Firestone
Roger A Revell
June 13, 2018
I was fortunate to have Sid Willens as my "business law" professor during my MBA at UMKC in the late 70s. This was one class I never missed. We learned from a huge collection of essays, letters-to-the-editor, and proposals that he had written. Sid was real. Sid was kind. Sid was deeply concerned about humans and how they were treated. He had just accomplished the work that led to the first Missouri Victim's Compensation Law. We learned practical things about the law and business. In my consulting career, I met and worked with many attorneys at least a couple of whom did not know what he taught us. My mind was stimulated and my life was enriched by the opportunity to know him. The world is a better place because of Sid.
June 13, 2018
Sidney was a gift from G-d. He touched so many lives and definitely touched mine. He was easy to love and made a definite impact on my life. I will miss your letters and your special hugs. Love you and your special family. Arlene
June 12, 2018
As a close friend of Sid's granddaughter, Sara, I was fortunate to be in Sid's company on several occasions. I was familiar with Sid Willens for many years prior through articles in the Kansas City Star, covering his many social justice endeavours, the meeting with the Pope and his numerous radio appearances with Mike Murphy and Walt Bodine. How thrilled I was to meet him!
The last time I spent with Sid and Sara, was on a frigid evening for dinner on the plaza. As we left the restaurant, I chose to go into the same revolving door compartment with Sid - how we giggled taking tiny steps to push it round together! He gifted me one of his singing teddy bears ("dolls", he called them) - "Unforgettable" is the song and the bear is holding a telephone. I never gave the bear a name and now, I think I will call him Sid.
Lastly, it was crystal clear to all who knew him, the importance of and love for, his family . My sincere condolences to all of you.
June 11, 2018
What an amazing attorney and family man Sid was. He had the greatest sense of humor and always had great stories to tell anyone that was visiting him. I loved all of his stuffed toys that danced and played music and he was always a joy to be around; truly the life of the party. The love of his family was unique and he always put his family first! I consider myself very lucky to have known him! My sincere condolences to his family but so many wonderful memories of him to hold onto and make you smile at times.
With sympathy on your loss-