Tom Docking, who served as lieutenant governor of Kansas and was a driving force in revitalizing Wichita’s downtown, died Thursday night of cancer. He was 63.
Docking, the son and grandson of Kansas governors, served as lieutenant governor of the Sunflower State from 1983 to 1987, during Gov. John Carlin’s second term.
“Kansas is a better state because of his leadership,” Carlin tweeted about Docking on Friday.
Docking was “a strong and dignified public servant” and “a bright young talent who we lost far too soon,” Carlin added in a Facebook post.
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Docking was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1986, but lost to Republican Mike Hayden. His father, Robert Docking, served as governor from 1967 to 1975.
Robert Docking was the only candidate to win four elections for governor when they served two-year terms. Tom’s grandfather George Docking held the office from 1957 to 1961.
A fourth-generation Kansan, Tom Docking had a love for the state only some with deep roots can have, friends said Friday.
“His whole family was so involved and so active,” Dana Hensley said.
Because he was part of what was at one time the most prominent political family in Kansas, “Tom grew up knowing he had those expectations on him — but he welcomed that,” Hensley said.
“He was a true servant leader,” she said. “He understood that the best way to help people or to lead people was to serve them: find out what they needed and figure out a way to give that to them.”
Docking earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Kansas and bled crimson and blue, friends said. He worked as an attorney at the Law Offices of Morris Laing.
“There was never any question that he was going to watch every KU basketball game,” said Don Barry, managing director at the Wichita office of Baird, a national financial management and investment firm, where Tom’s wife, Jill, and son, Brian, are executives.
Barry didn’t bother calling Docking while the Jayhawks were playing.
“We just knew better,” he said with a chuckle.
Tom and Jill Docking were co-chairs of the Far Above campaign, which raised more than $1.6 billion for the university.
A voracious reader, Docking had a keen legal mind, a love of red wine and a self-deprecating sense of humor, Barry said.
“He was an eloquent person, thoughtful,” Barry said.
People frequently came to him for advice, whether it was about a political campaign or a development project.
“Tom just had this way of providing leadership and guidance,” said John Rolfe, former CEO of Go Wichita, who now works in Houston. “He did it in such a diplomatic way. He could really move things forward, regardless of the project.”
He did that by helping people see the bigger picture and then find ways to achieve that goal, Rolfe said.
Docking saw Wichita as a city with tremendous potential, local officials said.
“He was just a good man who had an incredible passion for people, for his city, for his country, for all of the right reasons,” Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said.
Docking’s efforts helped drive projects throughout downtown, Longwell said.
“He had a vision for the core of the city,” Longwell said. “He was invested in it and he would encourage others to do the same.”
That included moving Morris Laing into Old Town.
As a board member for the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. for the past 15 years, Docking played a significant role in efforts to revitalize the center of the city.
He understood a vibrant core “was so critically important to moving our city forward,” Longwell said.
From hotel projects such as the Drury Plaza and the Ambassador to the Douglas Design District, Longwell said, Docking’s impact is immense. And yet it goes beyond what a resident or visitor might see on a Final Friday or a night in Old Town.
Docking was pivotal in establishing the infrastructure to allow so much of downtown development to occur, local officials said. Whether it was handling legal matters or helping officials navigate legislative issues, Docking was “a great resource,” Rolfe said.
“He has made Wichita a very prominent city,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of Greater Wichita Partnership. “We’re going to continue to see how he shaped that city for many years to come with what he started.”
For all of his achievements in the political, legal and economic development realms, Barry said, Docking’s most impressive accomplishment is likely his family. Jill ran for the U.S. Senate in 1996 and lieutenant governor of Kansas in 2014, losing both times.
Their daughter-in-law, Emily, graduated first in her law class at KU and now works at the same firm as her father, Barry said. Their daughter, Margery, lives and works in New York.
“He and his wife, they are really a team,” Barry said. “They have this wonderful marriage that make the average person cry.”
The funeral for Docking will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Botanica.