Death of fmr Gov & U.S. Sen. Henry Louis Bellmon (R-OK)
- Fmr. Gov. Bellmon, a resident of Billings, OK., died in Enid, OK on 9/29/2009.
Enid, OK BELLMON, Henry, 88, of Billings, OK. Service pending with Dugger Funeral Home, Billings.
Bellmon passes into history
By Tim Talley, Associated Press Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY Henry Louis Bellmon, who in 1963 became Oklahoma's first GOP governor since statehood and is known as the father of the state's modern Republican party, died Tuesday. He was 88.
Bellmon, who also served two terms in the U.S. Senate, died shortly before 11 a.m. after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, said Andrew Tevington, Bellmon's former chief of staff and general counsel. Bellmon died at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Enid, where he had been hospitalized since Sunday morning, he said.
Bellmon served two nonconsecutive terms as governor, one that began in 1963 and one that started in 1987. As the state's first GOP governor, Bellmon was credited with making the party a viable force in state politics.
In 1967, he served as national chairman of the Nixon for President campaign. Bellmon then went on to win election to the U.S. Senate in 1968 and again in 1974.
"Henry Bellmon was the most outstanding person I have ever known and that Oklahoma has ever seen," Tevington said. "I think that he was the sort of politician everybody always says they want, the kind who didn't pay attention to what was going to happen in the next election but was always concerned about what was the right thing to do.
"Sometimes that got him in trouble, but I think in the end each time he was proven to be right," Tevington said.
During his first term as a U.S. senator, Bellmon supported a federal court order that called for crosstown busing to achieve racial balance in Oklahoma City public schools. Many state newspapers criticized him for his stance.
At the end of his second term as governor, Bellmon saw passage of the Education Reform and Funding Act of 1990, commonly known as House Bill 1017. The legislation called for an increase in funding for public schools by 27 percent, as well smaller class sizes, compulsory kindergarten and teacher incentive pay.
"He was a man of honor," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. "Even if you disagreed with some of his positions, you had to respect and love him for his strong character and because he always did what he felt was the right thing to do."
Democratic Gov. Brad Henry described Bellmon as a mentor and "probably the greatest man that I have ever known."
"He was a true statesman. He was a statesman's statesman. He always stressed deeds over words, action over discussion," Henry said.
Henry said he was a student in Bellmon's political science class at the University of Oklahoma in 1984 and described it as "the most fascinating experience of my collegiate career."
"He always talked about bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle to reach consensus," Henry said. "Henry Bellmon was a tremendous inspiration to me."
Bellmon began his political career at age 25, when he was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
After concluding his second term in the U.S. Senate, then-Gov. George Nigh, a Democrat, called upon Bellmon to be interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which was undergoing restructuring.
In a statement, Nigh said Bellmon "was the most decent and honorable public servant I ever knew."
"I admire his service to this state and country and know like others this is a great loss for Oklahoma," Nigh said.
Bellmon continued to speak out on various issues, including his own party's supply-side economic policies, which he told a 1982 U.S. Senate Budget Committee were hurting farmers.
"Supply side so far has meant less for the tax collector and more, much more, for the money lenders," Bellmon said.
In 1985, he was selected as receiver of the financially troubled National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
The following year, Bellmon decided to run for governor again at a time when the state was reeling from the effects of a major downturn in the petroleum industry and problems in the agricultural sector.
With two of the state's largest industries in trouble, tax revenues declined and state government faced painful layoffs and budget cuts.
Bellmon proposed increasing various state taxes and fees to raise $468 million in revenue, which put him at odds with fellow Oklahoma Republicans, who favored tax cuts and deep budget reductions.
His second term as governor of Oklahoma ended Jan. 14, 1991.
He was born Sept. 3, 1921, in Tonkawa, to George and Edith Caskey Bellmon.
After graduating from Billings High School in 1938, Bellmon attended Colorado State University and later transferred to Oklahoma A&M College, which became Oklahoma State University. He received a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 1942.
Bellmon served with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946, receiving the Silver Star for action on Saipan and the Legion of Merit for action on Iwo Jima.
Between his political stints, Bellmon taught at Oklahoma State University, where he was a Statesman in Residence, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University.
In November 1997, Republican politicians from all over the state honored Bellmon's contributions.
"He had absolute integrity. Whatever he said you could rely on. He was a mentor and a guide to me," then-Gov. Frank Keating said. "Henry knew that to be a successful Republican meant that you had to begin from a position of integrity.
Keating also said Bellmon was a humble leader in the mold of great American statesmen.
"Henry was quintessentially a humble human being," he said. "To leave the governor's office, to leave the Senate, to head a state cabinet department was total humility."
Bellmon and his wife, Shirley, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997. The couple raised three daughters while managing a successful farm.
"I haven't thought much about giving people advice on marriage, but they should be tolerant of each other, and understanding," Bellmon said in 1997 at his 50th wedding anniversary.
"You have to have freedom inside a marriage to pursue your own interests. Shirley always was good about letting me do things."
After retirement, Bellmon spent most of his time farming his 2,500 acres near Billings in north-central Oklahoma and tended a herd of 200 cattle. Shirley Bellmon died on July 24, 2000, while vacationing in Massachusetts.
Bellmon is survived by his second wife, Eloise, three daughters and four grandchildren. Henry said he has been in contact with family members about funeral arrangements and that they may include Bellmon's remains lying in state for a day at the state Capitol.
"They want it to be a celebration of his great life," Henry said.
- Burial info for Gov. Bellmon.
Bellmon's body at Capitol today
Posted by Michael McNutton October 2, 2009 at 6:33 am
Oklahomans will have the chance today to pay their respects to Henry Bellmon at the state Capitol, where the Billings farmer and former U.S. senator served two terms as governor and one term as a legislator.
The body of Bellmon, who died Tuesday, will lie in repose on the 4th-floor rotunda from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. His casket will be by the Will Rogers portrait. Family members and former staff members will be on hand to greet visitors.
Flags at the Capitol and on other state property are being flown at half-staff, as ordered by Gov. Brad Henry.
The last governor to lie in repose at the Capitol occurred in 1993. The body of Raymond Gary was on the second floor of the Capitol. Gary was elected in 1954 and served from 1955 to 1959.
Visitors may enter the Capitol from any of the entrances and may either take elevators or walk up to the 4th-floor Rotunda. All visitors will have to go through metal detectors at the entrances.
Two funeral services are set for Saturday.
Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Edmond and at 3 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Perry. Burial will at the Union Cemetery in his hometown of Billings.
The family has asked that memorials be made to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, 825 NE 13, Oklahoma City, OK 73104 or to the Henry Bellmon Endowment, Oklahoma State University Foundation, P.O. Box 1749, Stillwater, OK 74076-1749.
Bellmon was elected in November 1946 to the state House of Representatives, but was not re-elected. He focused on his family and building up his farm, and in the mid-1950s became active in Noble County politics. In 1960 he was elected chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party; he developed a strong statewide base with chapters in each county. He couldn't persuade anyone to run for governor in 1962 so he ran and was elected, becoming Oklahoma's first Republican governor and the first GOP governor of a southern state since Reconstruction. Back then, governors in Oklahoma couldn't seek re-election so he got involved in national politics and eventually ran for the U.S. Senate.
He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968 and 1974. He didn't seek a third term in 1980 and returned to Oklahoma. He successfully again ran for governor in 1986.
Bellmon's accomplishments as governor included establishing Oklahoma's CareerTech system and a state employees' retirement program as well as backing legislation to exempt seed and fertilizer from sales tax during his first term. During his second term, he led efforts to pass a public education reform bill, House Bill 1017, which increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes.
- Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau