The only thing that mattered to Raymond Lansford was that he could “impact somebody else’s life positively,” his niece Betsy Ross-Krieg said.
Two weeks shy of his 99th birthday, Lansford, former MU assistant dean and professor at the University School of Business and Public Administration (now the Trulaske College of Business), former Columbia Kiwanis Club member and World War II veteran, died Monday morning.
“If there was a passion in his life, it would be education and (helping) children,” Ross-Krieg said.
According to Ross-Krieg, Lansford worked at a grocery store in Osage County after graduating high school in 1939. A salesman came in one day and asked him what he was going to do as a graduate.
Lansford said he had no idea; his family grew up poor, and there was “no hope,” Ross-Krieg said. The salesman gave him $50 and told him to go to college.
“And that $50 has been paid back and will continue to be paid back by Raymond long after he’s gone,” she said. This moment was a driving force of Lansford’s selflessness and generosity throughout his life.
Lansford joined the MU business faculty in 1957 as associate professor of marketing and was promoted to professor in 1960. He retired and became professor emeritus in 1984. During his 29 years at MU, he was a professor of finance, placement director, assistant dean, director of educational services and coordinator for the small business program.
Sally Robinson, friend and member of the Columbia Kiwanis Club, said Lansford always made connections with students.
“Former students would come up to him and talk to him, thank him for encouraging them, and some of them he even loaned money to get businesses started, and they paid him back,” Robinson said.
“He wasn’t what you’d call your typical faculty member,” Bruce Walker, dean emeritus of the Trulaske College of Business, said. “He advised university leaders on many matters, often related to finance, not surprisingly.
“He was a good role model,” Walker said. “Even though he’s quite a bit older than I am, I strived to be a gentleman, a true professional as he was. He showed me that it’s good to stay up to date on what’s going on in the world of business. It keeps your mind active and certainly did with Raymond’s.”
Lansford joined the Columbia Kiwanis Club in 1959 and served as club president in 1967-68. He became governor of the Missouri-Arkansas district in 1974 and was elected to the International Board in 1977.
Before becoming international president in 1984, he served as trustee, vice president, treasurer and president-elect. As international president, he visited Kiwanis districts in 62 countries around the world.
“He elected to go to some of the poorer areas of the world, largely Africa, because he felt that the children there were in desperate need,” Ross-Krieg said.
But Lansford’s efforts were rooted in the United States, too. “He would say, ‘You know, they’re putting a new Kiwanis Club together in South Texas. I’ll go down there and see if I can help,’” Ross-Krieg said.
Lansford was also a World War II veteran. He began as a volunteer in 1942 and was eventually accepted into the Air Force OCS. After flying in 30 missions, he was promoted to second lieutenant. In 2011, he was invited to join an Honor Flight and was flown to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorials.
Ernie Lee, Columbia Kiwanis Club member, was Lansford’s guardian for the Honor Flight. Their 20-hour day together earned Lee a letter from Lansford, which was something he liked to give to those he felt needed recognition.
“It was a total surprise,” Lee said.
Robinson was another recipient of Lansford’s letters.
“He always wanted to build other people up,” she said. “If he liked something you did and thought you needed to be recognized for it, he would write a letter to you and also write a letter to your boss.”
Mary Ann Burns, Lansford’s niece, said that although she didn’t have a close relationship with Lansford at first, he was always there to help in times of need. For example, Burns’ grandfather, Lansford’s father, had a series of strokes.
“I remember thinking, ‘What’s going to happen? How are we going to take care of them?’ And here was (Raymond), who I didn’t know well at all, who was providing for (my grandparents),” Burns said. “That’s the kind of person he was. He was the uncle that took care of things when they needed to be taken care of.”
Despite Lansford not having any children of his own, Ross-Krieg said he cared about others so much that he felt like he had so many children. Although she is only his niece by marriage, she said the bond is much stronger. When he became president of Kiwanis International, she gifted him a pocket watch that used to be her father’s.
“My father died early, and I had the pocket watch inscribed with ‘A daughter’s love.’ I gave it to Raymond,” Ross-Krieg said. “He used to call me his daughter. I gave him everything with a daughter’s love.”