“You can lead a bureaucrat to water, but you can’t make him think.” (Ric Keller)

Unless the world moves to total anarchy, there will always be a government upon which the people depend. And day-in-and-day-out, there will be bureaucrats who make that government run. They labor in bland offices, they are the subject of jokes and called dumb and lazy (e.g. the title of this post), they seldom get a thank you from those they serve and do so at wages less than they could get in the private sector, especially those who rise up in the ranks, never to move on to greener pastures because they are called to serve the public.

Paul Kinsman was a bureaucrat for almost 30 years and he didn’t need anyone to lead him to think.  He thought, did and served.

When I was in Pierre, I don’t remember his title nor his official duties. You always found him at his desk in the Bureau of Administration. If you needed advice, Paul was always generous with his time and expertise. But, if you needed something that was going to cost money, Paul’s first inclination was it was a “want” and he treated every dollar of taxpayer money as if it was his own last dollar. But, if you came to him with a real problem or opportunity, he could figure out how to solve it and then he would make sure you had the resources to do so.

In the late ‘80’s, state government was getting new desktops, beginning to use email, getting wired, replacing secretarial pools with technology. It was a time when it looked like technology increased inefficiency, not decreased it. Somebody needed to understand the “big picture” lest money was wasted. Paul was that guy making him the “oil” for the bureaucratic machine that is state government. He messed up and things screeched to a halt. He did good and things moved forward at lower cost.

If I were to detail one simple solution, you’d all say “duh” but back then it was innovative. Our Division budget was getting killed with travel back and forth while separation was also killing our ability to get things done at the office. I had an idea my boss wasn’t buying (rightly so it turned out) so I was sent to Paul for a reason I didn’t understand at the time. After I detailed the issues, he authorized giving our Division a laptop (which was a luxury needing the signature of his boss and his boss’s boss). That first laptop was “free” in that it didn’t come out of my budget but was loaned from the BofA. Shortly thereafter, the value of laptops was clear and I was re-configuring my budget for more laptops.

The point is Paul knew travel was slowing the comprehensive move to reliance on technology. He knew laptops were a necessity and not a luxury but he needed a “test case” to prove his theory to his superiors and figured our division staff of people in our 20’s would embrace laptop use.  To this day, I credit Paul Kinsman as the person most responsible for the State of South Dakota being known as a national leader in adopting technology to increase efficiency and reducing costs.

This all said, I would be remiss if I reduced Paul to just a public servant. Paul was at his core a personally kind human being. When his friend Labor Secretary Peter deHueck was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I’m sure Paul was suffering and in need of consolation but he was the one giving everyone else consolation.  When the plane crashed in Iowa and everything seemed turned upside down, Paul stayed right side up.  Too often kindness is seen as weakness. Paul Kinsman showed it is actually strength.  Somehow, I’m pretty sure him watching Peter fade from life prepared him for his own journey to Eternity.

As a former colleague, I’m not sure I really expressed my appreciation for all his help beyond a short “thanks.” I’m not sure I ever really expressed my affection or gratitude for his kindness, especially when I lost people most dear to me in the plane crash (as did Paul). As a “bureaucrat” who served our state with integrity, a selfless spirit, and competence, I know I never thanked him. It is a shame I am doing so upon hearing of his death. But, as much as Paul deserved to hear gratitude for what he did and who he was, he knew he was doing good work and making a difference in the lives of the people of South Dakota and I suspect that was enough for him.

Paul Kinsman, you are the epitome of a public servant and give bureaucrats a good name. We were blessed by your service. Thank you.

Paul Kinsman, Bureaucrat. Rest In Peace.

Incline, O Lord, Your ear to my prayer, in which I humbly beseech Your mercy, that You would place the soul of Your servant, Paul Kinsman, which You have allowed to depart from this world, into the region of peace and light; and unite in the fellowship of Your Saints. Through Christ our Lord,


2 thoughts on ““You can lead a bureaucrat to water, but you can’t make him think.” (Ric Keller)”

  1. Sad to hear of his passing. He fought a good fight against cancer and now he can rest. He certainly had an admirable career and wore several hats to the benefit of this state. I will miss his expertise and dry sense of humor. My heart goes out to his family and may God bless his soul!!

  2. What a wonderful tribute, Troy… and well deserved.

    I didn’t know Paul well, but I did well enough to recognize what a genuine, kind, and hard-working individual he was. Heaven won, South Dakota lost.

    RIP Friend Paul.

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