Circle of Influence: Banning Gives Back to Mizzou

Ret. Col. Robert D. BanningBack in 1954 a freshman was photographed as he matriculated for classes at MU and his image appeared in the alumni magazine but no name was mentioned.

Now, more than 50 years later, the circle can be completed because the freshman has a name. He is Ret. Col. Robert D. Banning, BS '58, of Tucson, Ariz. Originally from Independence, Mo., Banning came to the University of Missouri-Columbia on a Curators scholarship he applied for at the suggestion of his high school counselor.

A part of the family's circle of friends and a former neighbor happened to be a writer for the Missouri Alumnus magazine. She enlisted Banning to show alumni everywhere what it was like to enroll as a freshman at MU.

Sometimes life is a series of interlinking circles. The freshman from Independence would graduate and head for service in the United States Army. He would have tours of duty in places like Korea, Germany, Vietnam and Panama. He would also have assignments in various posts around the United States including Washington D.C. at the Pentagon and the White House. While at the Pentagon, Banning worked with Colin Powell. At the White House, Banning hosted and assisted the movers and the shakers in the world at that time-the President and his cabinet, heads of state, and a variety of public officials-people like Henry Kissinger, Henry Ford II, and many celebrities.

Assigned as an aide in the White House, Banning assisted behind the scenes at every social and diplomatic function of the Nixon administration from 1970 to 1974.

Banning said there were about 30 "White House Social Aids" as they were called. "We were the ones that made sure that people were where they needed to be in the proper protocol. We were the ones there when the dinner was over to dance with the ladies to get (the dance) started. And we were the ones to say goodbye to them as they left. I guess I was there four to six times a week depending on what was going on," Banning said.

The list of world leaders, Hollywood notables and politicos reads like a "Who's Who" from the late ‚Äò60's to mid ‚Äò80's. Banning recalls in the days of Détente, Brezhnev paid a visit to the White House for a state dinner, then traveled to San Clemente for a reception pool-side at Nixon's California home.

According to Banning 160 movie stars were invited to the reception. Banning said, "I've got about four big scrapbooks of stuff like that. These were anyone you would know from the movies in the '30s, '40s, and the '50s." Banning described how Red Skelton and Buddy Ebsen showed up early so he had to remain with them until time to start the reception. "I stood for 30 minutes and listened to them just chatting back and forth like friends."

Having grown up just blocks from Truman's home, Banning made sure he would be assigned duty for any matters related to former President Truman. When Truman died in 1972, Margaret Truman and her husband, Clifton Daniel, editor of the New York Times, came to the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Banning was assigned to Margaret during the ceremony. Banning said, "We went to the same school since I lived just down the street from them. We talked about our third grade teacher-different times, but we had the same third grade teacher."

After the memorial service Margaret had a luncheon with some of her friends hosted at the White House. Banning said, "I was not prepared to eat lunch because my job was to get everything going and just back away. But they said come join us. So I sat there with them and had lunch. They were lovely. I got a letter from Clifton Daniel thanking me for what I had done."

When you take a walk around Banning's home, everywhere you look there are items of memorabilia from his long and illustrious career, many of which are part of the trajectory of his life circling back time and again to his home in Missouri and MU. Banning said about his experience at MU, "I believe that it gave me a broadened picture of life away from Independence, Mo.

He decided a long time ago that when he is gone, all he has will complete the circle back to MU through a bequest of his estate. His gift will establish the Robert D. Banning Endowment Fund in Public Administration in the Truman School of Public Affairs at Mizzou.

(This article appeared in the Fall, 2007 edition of Mizzou Legacies magazine, a publication of the MU Office of Gift Planning and Endowments.)

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