Kansas City attorney shares good fortune with people around the world

Paul Kavanaugh is our Person of the Week

Kansas City's Morning News
March 01, 2019 - 7:32 am

Kansas City, MO - Paul Kavanaugh is an attorney in Kansas City who decided to take some of his earnings to form a charitable foundation that is helping people thousands of miles from home. 

"I grew up in a large family, five brothers and sisters, and we all grew up on welfare," Kavanaugh remembers. "My father never worked when I was a kid."

Through his family's struggles, Paul learned empathy for people who have less than they need.

"People say things are terrible here, well that's because you've never seen what terrible is," Kavanaugh said. "If you're in rural India, things get real. Real fast."


Kavanaugh is the first person in his family to graduate, not just from college, not just from graduate school, but from high school.

Kavanaugh says everything clicked for him in law school. The former B student who excelled in grad school believes people sometimes need a little help before they find out what they are good at.

Federal Judge Steve Bough in Kansas City has high praise for Kavanaugh. 

"Paul always represented the little guy, and through that, he has an eye that's attuned to people who need help," Bough said.

A few years back, Paul won a big case and a big judgment. He used a chunk of the money and put it into the Kavanaugh Charitable Foundation. They started looking for projects.

They helped a bright young man in Cambodia whom they met on vacation. The foundation paid for his education, then it covered the $2,000 the man's village needed to build a short stretch of road. Now the kids have an easier time walking or biking to school.



Paul and his wife, Debbie, have at least three fully-endowed scholarships at Westminster College, Paul's undergraduate alma mater, the UMKC School of Law and the UMKC School of Pharmacy, where Debbie got her degree. 

The Kavanaugh Foundation has since built a school in Cambodia, with a teacher, computers, solar panels and other amendments.

"Our other major project is to get the funding for wheelchairs for people in third world countries," Kavanaugh said. "When you see a child who's 10 or 12 years old who gets their first wheelchair, and they've been paralyzed since they were born, you can't even imagine the change that makes in a person."

Kavanaugh remembers a profound conversation he had with a woman in Argentina who received a wheelchair through his foundation. The woman said she needed to know why someone would help her when her government and church would not.

"I remember thinking, my God, this person is so poor and so bad off, that even the attempt to help them frightens them," Kavanaugh said.

There was another heart-warming interaction with a little Mexican girl who was so thrilled with her wheelchair and her new ability to drive herself to school.

Each wheelchair, and the independence that comes with it, costs $150.


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