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Sidney L. Willens


1926 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Sidney L. Willens Obituary
Sidney L. Willens 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. Online condolences to www.mcgilleysheil.com.
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Published in Kansas City Star on June 13, 2018
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