FORMER KC MAYOR REPRESENTS PARK UNIVERSITY
While Kay Barnes may be best known for the public service branch of her career, especially the two terms she served as Kansas City mayor, she doesn’t consider herself a career politician. Instead, the 84-year-old believes her biggest impact is as a communicator.
Her roles throughout her career have focused on the skill she said we all can benefit from improving. Since 2007, Barnes has offered her communication expertise—first as founding director of Park University’s Center for Leadership and as a teacher of leadership for several years within Park’s Hauptmann School of Public Affairs.
Barnes described, during a recent telephone interview, the basic tenants of good communication: “be a better listener and learn how to be assertive and not aggressive.”
Since 2018, Barnes has taken on a new role, serving as Park’s senior director for university engagement, where she acts as “ambassador in its government relations and business development initiatives,” according to a Park news release at the time of her appointment to the role.
As senior director for university engagement, she “delivers public presentations and connects colleagues across the university with external stakeholders,” the release states.
Park’s Chief Strategic Communications Officer Erik Bergrud said Barnes’ latest role sees her serving as a member of a four-person team who represent the university in area civic groups, including the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. The team, of which Bergrud also is a member, advocates for the university and its students.
Sometimes that role leads Barnes to speak to various groups, Bergrud said.
“With everything going on in Kansas City, you can imagine a lot of people want her to speak,” he said of advancements such as the recent opening of the new airport. “She has such a wealth of knowledge,” he said, adding that her long-time service to Kansas City has given her a historical perspective matched by few. “She knows so many people,” he said. “I trust her completely.”
Earlier in her career, Barnes was busy as founder and president of Kay Waldo Inc. for more than 20 years. The human resource development company, no longer in existence, specialized in communication, leadership development and management, team building and time/stress management.
Barnes learned a valuable lesson from her parents while growing up in St. Joseph, which eventually led her to run for political office. Her LinkedIn profile states her parents modeled the importance of “pitching in and working hard to better our community.” Her father was a high school football and basketball coach, and her mother was a teacher.
In addition to her two terms as Kansas City mayor, Barnes also served as a member of the Kansas City Missouri City Council and the Jackson County Legislature. She also unsuccessfully ran, in 2008, against Congressman Sam Graves for U.S. Congress.
A fierce advocate of women, Barnes assisted in founding the Women’s Resource Service Center, now known as the Women’s Center, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and co-authored a book, “About Time! A Woman’s Guide to Time Management.” She also co-hosted and produced a cable television talk show highlighting community issues.
Her career as a communicator runs deep. During the 1980s, Barnes said she spoke to residents in more than 100 cities per year, delivering messages about leadership and communication skills as a speaker for National Seminars. But Barnes, with a perspective unlike most given her more than half-century of professional interactions with others, weaves a cautionary tale about the impact of today’s technology on exchanges with others. She said modern technology is “wonderful and reliable,” but also needs to be kept in its place and not used exclusively. Instead, it’s face-to-face communication and conversations via cellphones that offer “value and richness” that can be lost when conducted via text and email.
Old-fashioned face to face communication remains “at the highest level of importance,” she said. The full extent of the effects of modern technology are unknown. She said, “I don’t know that we have all the answers yet.”