Kauffman, Ewing Marion

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Kauffman, Ewing Marion

(b. 21 September 1916 in Garden City, Missouri; d. 1 August 1993 in Kansas City, Missouri), self-made billionaire and philanthropist who founded the Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company Marion Laboratories and was the owner of the Kansas City Royals baseball team.

Kauffman was one of two children of John Samuel Kauff-man, a mathematics whiz and insurance salesman, and Ef-fie Mae Winders, a teacher and homemaker. He was named for Anna Ewing Cockrell, the wife of the Missouri senator Brigadier General Francis Marion Cockrell, and for John Marion Winders, his maternal grandfather. A brilliant child and an Eagle Scout who finished everything he started, Kauffman swam twice a day and once swam 240 feet under water without coming up for air. He was a member of Mensa, a prestigious group of intellectuals with IQs above the genius level, which he joined in childhood.

As a child Kauffman suffered from endocarditis, a heart ailment that kept him bedridden at the age of eleven. He passed the time with books, reading the Bible, biographies of American presidents and frontiersmen, and the works of Lloyd C. Douglas, including Magnificent Obsession (1929) and Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal (1939).

Kauffman attended Westport High School in Kansas City, graduated from Kansas City Junior College in 1936 with a degree in business, and entered the U.S. Navy in 1941. Before he left to serve in World War II, he married Marguerite Blackshire. After the surrender of Japan, he worked as a pharmaceuticals salesperson for Lincoln Laboratories in Missouri, where he outsold everyone in the company. Rather than rewarding him, however, the company cut back his territory. Frustrated, he decided to found his own company. Kauffman began Marion Laboratories in his basement in 1950 with $5,000 seed money, his poker winnings from his time in military service. That first year, Marion Laboratories made $36,000 in gross sales and $1,000 profit. One of the firm’s products was the calcium tablet OS-CAL, which was developed because of its apparent therapeutic properties in healing broken bones. Meanwhile Kauffman adopted two children. After his wife died in 1960, Kauffman married Muriel McBrien in February 1962; they had one child.

By the time Kauffman was in his fifties, his company was worth billions and was one of the prestigious Fortune 500 companies because of excellent sales associates and hands-on product development by Kauffman. In 1989 Marion Laboratories merged with Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals to form Marion Merrell Dow, with Kauffman serving as chairman emeritus until 1993. Kauffman always regarded the pharmaceutical company as the financial operation that made it possible for him to pursue his philanthropic interests.

Kauffman was on vacation in Europe with Muriel in 1969 when he suffered a stroke. The renowned heart surgeon Michael DeBakey advised Kauffman to cut out cigarettes, limit his consumption of coffee, and take up a hobby as part of a rehabilitation regimen. Kauffman, a diehard baseball fan, purchased the Kansas City Royals Baseball Club as an American League expansion franchise. The Royals soon had a state-of-the-art stadium, complete with fountains in the outfield behind the fences, built as a present for his wife. Kauffman, who was known by associates as Mr. K, started the Baseball Academy in Kansas City to help young athletes from other sports who wanted to play baseball after college. Second baseman Frank White was a graduate of this academy.

In his twenty-five years as owner, Kauffman built the Royals into a championship team. In 1980 the Royals won their first American League pennant and went to the World Series. They lost to the Philadelphia Phillies but fought hard and made the Series quite dramatic. The Kansas City Royals won the pennant again in 1985 under manager Dick Howser and continued on to win the World Series. Kauffman called the 1985 World Series victory his “greatest thrill.” His star manager and his greatest franchise player, George Brett, were celebrated all over the world. Brett, whose batting average was over .300, won three American League batting titles in three separate decades, a singular feat. Mr. ? started a program called the Royal Lancers, in which people from all walks of life sell season tickets not for money but for perks, such as trips to spring training and passes to the stadiums around the league. Kauffman was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in May 1993, and in June of that year, Royals Stadium was officially renamed Kauffman Stadium.

Kauffman established the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which embraces the idea of helping young people reach their goals in life. Whether it is providing financing for medical school for deserving students or helping talented young high school and college athletes to realize their dreams of playing professional baseball, the foundation has touched the lives of many young men and women. President George Bush recognized Kauffman for his philanthropic efforts by naming him the sixteenth Point of Light in the president’s “Thousand Points of Light” tribute. In 1991 Kauffman received the Good Neighbor Award from the Harry S. Truman Foundation and was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, sponsored by Babson College in Massachusetts. This honor has been extended to only fifty people.

Kauffman not only left a pharmaceutical legacy, allowing for the advancement of medicine, but he also left a baseball legacy through the Kansas City Royals and a philanthropic legacy through the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which continued to help young people after Kauffman’s death from natural causes in 1993.

Anne Morgan’s authorized biography, Prescription For Success: The Life and Values of Ewing Marion Kauffman (1995), is both insightful and regaling, and covers Kauffman’s life from both a business and personal standpoint. An obituary is in the Kansas City Star (2 Aug. 1993).

Burton E. Rocks