As a congresswoman, Jan Meyers was a politician.
But elections and politics were kind of an afterthought.
What mattered most to the congresswoman from Kansas was making government work.
Known for an insatiable interest in everything from music to travel to acting, Meyers established a reputation for wanting to make the minutiae of government function for taxpayers.
“She was interested, of course, in elections, in politicking, but that was never her passion,” Meyers’ daughter, Valerie, said at a memorial service for her mom Saturday afternoon.
“She was fascinated with government and the ways to make it work for people,” she said.
That was one of the many ways Meyers was remembered by family, friends and former staffers at a memorial service Saturday afternoon at Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village. She passed away on June 21. She was 90.
Meyers, who represented the 3rd Congressional District from 1985 until 1997, was recalled as someone who worked on legislation that mattered to individuals, laid out a path for women in politics and never took herself too seriously.
Among those attending the service were former Congressman Kevin Yoder, Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert, former congressional candidate Adam Taff, pollster Neil Newhouse, former Kansas House Speaker Wendell Lady, lawyer Larry Winn III, former state Sen. Dick Bond, Democratic state Rep. Jerry Stogsdill and Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm.
Valerie Meyers said her mother always had enormous pupils. She said a psychology class once taught her that the pupils dilate when you’re interested in something.
“People who knew my mom and knew about her eyes would believe it because she was interested in everything,” she said.’
Meyers talked about her mom’s wonkish approach to government, making sure she watched every detail of public works projects when she was on the Overland Park City Council.
Meyers would load up a young Valerie and her brother, Phil, in a car and they would go on “council drives” to examine street and drainage projects.
Eilert was among those who eulogized his late friend. He spoke of how she paved a path for women in politics, noting how she was the first woman elected to the Overland Park City Council, the first woman elected president of the League of Kansas Municipalities and the first woman to chair the board of the Mid-America Regional Council.
“She opened many doors for women to be elected to political office,” he said.
Eilert, who ran unsuccessfully in 1996 to succeed Meyers in office, praised her work as a state senator in the 1970s and early 1980s on legislation to help protect women, children and seniors. She pushed for more funding for public health and mental health.
Throughout her career, Meyers demonstrated integrity, thoughtfulness and toughness on the issues that were important to her, Eilert said. And she knew how to disagree without letting it interfere with bettering her community, he said.
“Those are attributes we need more of in today’s world,” Eilert said. “Jan Meyers will be missed but her legacy will live on and on.”
Mike Murray, the congresswoman’s former chief of staff, related Meyers’ lighter side.
There was a 1985 dinner with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in Washington, where she had her own unique approach of discussing the federal deficit.
With Murray’s help, Meyers did a riff of the 1985 Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle video with each verse ending:
“I’m not here to cause no trouble, I’m just here to do the deficit shuffle.”
Murray also related an encounter that Meyers had on a crowded elevator with former Republican Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas.
On their way to a House floor vote, DeLay sniffed out something and asked, “Who’s wearing that perfume?” Meyers said she was wearing perfume.
DeLay asked the fragrance. “Passion,” Meyers responded.
Striking a more serious tenor, Murray noted how the congresswoman was the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Kansas.
In 1995, Meyers became the first Republican woman in more than 40 years to chair a standing House committee when she was named by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to head up the Small Business Committee.
“Jan Meyers truly was a pioneer for women in government service,” Murray said.
Beyond his parents, Murray said no one impacted his life more than Jan Meyers.
“As Bob Hope would have said, ‘Jan, thanks for the memories.
Valerie Meyers said she believes her mother’s story didn’t end Saturday.
“I’d like to think she’s looking around the afterlife with the huge pupils of those delighted eyes, taking it all in dancing with my father…and heading up a committee to study many more durable materials than gold, which Heaven can pave its streets.”