KEARNEY — Longtime businessman, veteran and community supporter Cecil Lovett Jr. is being mourned in Kearney and around Clay County after passing last week.
Described as a master community connector who was direct in his approach and lived enough for several lifetimes, Lovett is survived by the love of his life and wife of more than 60 years, Rue Lovett; and their family, which includes daughters Teresa Brent, Loni (Steve) Collins, Annette (Kevin) Hatton and Cie Cascone, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Cecil was a proud American, conservative political activist and staunch supporter of local veterans and veterans’ issues. He had distinguished military career that began in 1952 when he enlisted in the Navy with the Seabees, the well-known Naval Construction Force. He reached the rank of chief warrant officer and served with distinction in both Korea and Vietnam before serving as a member of the White House staff at Camp David under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
“Oh my gosh, the stories he had. He always had the most fascinating stories about his experiences,” said friend and fellow political activist Rod Will. “The things that he has seen and done through the years are just incredible. ... I remember him telling me this story one time about how they were in the back playing cards — Cecil and several of the other military people — and here comes JFK just with socks on his feet and says, ‘Hey, do you mind if I sit down and play?’ JFK just used to sit down and play cards with these guys. There were lots of stuff like that that you just don’t hear about on the news.”
The Lovetts lived near Camp David for six years, said Rue. Because of his professionalism and trustworthiness in service, her husband served in high-ranking positions with close proximity to the first families.
“He used to take the Kennedy children fishing up there when we were at Camp David,” she said, adding she was always proud of her husband, who undertook every job he endeavored to do to the fullest and placed God and family, which included the Navy, above all else.
“He was very loving and always put family first,” said his wife, adding he helped her raise four capable daughters.
“He taught them responsibility and to be very independent. And like they say, sometimes it kind of conflicted because he liked to be in control, too. When they differed, well, the girls used to tell him, ‘You have to suffer the consequences of it,’” Rue said with a fond chuckle.
Cecil’s time in military service and working with the federal government also saw him travel the world in a civil engineering capacity. He and his family spent multiple years in Egypt starting in the late 1960s. Cecil was assigned to a Naval medical research unit. He was sent as a public works officer to build and improve facilities for research.
“We were a full-scale research facility,” Cecil told the Courier-Tribune in a previous interview. “We had a very good, close working relationship with our Egyptian counterparts.”
Will said one of his favorite memories from the more than 22 years he knew Cecil was time he and his family were able to spend with the Lovetts in Egypt.
“We went to Cairo and we spent 16 days over there. Cecil and Rue had such a connection with that over there,” said Will. “He knew a lot of the people there, and I mean the people that were in charge of things, people that ran different (governmental) departments.”
Cecil retired from the Navy after serving more than 27 years, but his service to Clay Countians, veterans and his political affiliations never ceased. Along with Will, Cecil helped grow Common Sense for Common People, a grassroots political action group with conservative ties. Since the early 2000s, the group has brought in political candidates for forums and town halls, raised awareness of conservative issues, registered voters and raised thousands of dollars to assist veterans in need, including donating $7,000 to a veterans facility in the state.
Cecil was also a member of the American Public Works Society, NRA and American Legion as well as a lifetime supporter of the Boy Scouts.
Following his Naval retirement, Cecil worked for Clay County as a public works officer during construction of the Rooney Justice Center and modern Clay County Detention Center site. He also procured the site for the county airport, Midwest National Air Center in rural Kearney.
Kearney City Admin-istrator Jim Eldridge said Cecil was a lover of history. During his career with the county, Cecil helped secure murals that now adorn the exterior of the county jail facility in downtown Liberty, said Eldridge.
“He had an eye for history. He respected history,” said the Kearney city administrator.
Cecil had a zeal for business life and embarked on many careers. He worked for the Kansas City Transit Authority as a project manager, owned a family oil company with his wife that the couple purchased from Rue’s father and had another career working alongside his wife at Cecil Lovett and Associates Real Estate, now operated as ReeceNichols off Jefferson Street in downtown Kearney.
“He’s done a lot of good things for the city of Kearney and Clay County. He successfully owned and operated a real estate business over the years, he was owner of the Heritage restaurant (now the site of a McDonald’s near Interstate 33 and Missouri Highway 92), he has just done a lot,” said Eldridge. “He had a full life, a life well lived. He was a workaholic that did a lot.”
In addition to his myriad of careers and interests, Cecil was active in church.
Will, who along with the Lovetts is a member of First Christian in Kearney, said it was because of Cecil that he became a church elder.
“He was in charge of the elders and on the board. He was always very active in the church, he and Rue both and at least two of their daughters,” said Will. “Cecil gave a lot of money to the church and was instrumental in getting the new church building out here on Highway 33.”
Will said there was no question Cecil didn’t have the answer to or know who to get an answer from.
“He was just a really good friend and I miss a lot already,” Will said. “He was a hell of a patriot and a good friend and I’m proud that I got to call him friend.”