JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Former Senator Ryan McKenna of Jefferson County put it best: some legislators dive into the day-to-day agenda with zeal, pumping out important bills. The late Ron Casey’s impact was felt in a different way.
Casey cared about his constituents and their issues more than anything else. McKenna recalled that Festus High School would visit the capitol every year. Each of the 150 students came with a pen and a photo, and Casey took the time to sign each one.
“I don’t know who else would do that,” McKenna said. “He looked at it as just an hour out of his day to make an impact.”
Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, first met Casey when he was a staffer for Sen. Kevin Engler. They were touring the Holcim Plant in Ste. Genevieve. Although Casey was not feeling well, he took the concerns of his constituents seriously enough to go on that tour eventually falling ill midway through.
“I met him for the first time and he immediately became a friend,” Romine said. “He was one of those guys you feel comfortable around.”
Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he knew Casey for most of his life. Casey’s father was the Reverend at the Baptist Church in Festus. That Christian upbringing stuck with Casey his entire life. Engler is amazed that after Casey shared many private moments with Engler, in the comfort of Engler’s home, that Casey never said a negative thing about anybody else.
Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, was elected at the same time as Casey, in a neighboring district. The two were confidants for that campaign in 2004, sharing experiences. The two had a close friendship from that point. They worked on a bills together. One in particular was for blood tests for newborns, inspired by a child in Casey’s district that died of Crabbe Disease. Roorda agrees that Casey’s ministry expanded beyond public service, pointing to the Casey family’s care facility for adults with developmental disabilities.
“He was a Christian in the truest sense of the word,” Roorda said.
Casey’s impact on Roorda can be measured in stanzas. There were 18 stanzas in the poem Roorda read on the floor, based on Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.”
Rep. Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis, only served two years with Casey, but said he went out of his way to help Englund when she was a freshman legislator.
“I didn’t know him very well, but what I did know of him is that he had a big heart,” Englund said. “He was always looking out for everybody else and learned a lot from him the short time I knew him.”
Casey’s style lives on in the person who took his House seat – T.J. McKenna, D-Festus. T.J. McKenna witnessed Casey answer birthday or anniversary letters by hand. He’s taken up this practice. Recently he talked about writing a student who was going overseas as a part of an educational program. T.J. McKenna received a call from the boy showing genuine surprise at the response.
“It’s the little things like that that really make my job a lot better,” T.J. McKenna said.
Back in December, T.J. McKenna was hosting a fundraiser to announce he was to running for re-election. It happened to be snowing that night. T.J. McKenna knew Casey was suffering from a pinched nerve and was walking with a walker. As T.J. McKenna was setting up for the event, he saw Casey walking up the darkened corridor towards the table.
“Why are you here?!” T.J. McKenna said. “It’s snowing out.”
“I told you I was going to come so I had to keep my word,” Casey responded.
Casey’s constituents did respond to his caring approach.
“2010 was a bad year,” Ryan McKenna said. “In Jefferson County, he won easily that year with all discontent voters had with incumbents.”
Although Casey’s health had been deteriorating over the past few months, the reaction from his peers at the news of his death is one of shock. Casey was only 61 years old.
Perhaps, Casey’s legacy is that he will be truly missed.
“He was one of the rare people in life that made you want to be a better person,” Ryan McKenna said.