Even in death, Patience Latting is proving a pioneer in Oklahoma City government.
On Thursday, the former mayor became the first to lie in repose at city hall.
Surrounded by friends, family and an honor guard of fire and police department personnel, Latting's casket stood on display in the middle of the building's entry-level foyer. Groups of people gathered, spending time remembering her.
“Your mother is such an inspiration to so many people,” city Councilman David Greenwell told the three Latting children in attendance. “It's a good thing her name was Patience because it would take a lot of patience to do that.”
Greenwell's condolences to the former mayor's children were reflective of what people had to say as they stopped in on Thursday: Latting's bold service in a man's world of city politics was an important shift in the city's history.
“We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and she was a pretty impressive person,” said Mayor Mick Cornett. “This morning I heard the new Congress has 20 women senators, and in a certain way, she was at the forefront of that. I never heard her specifically champion those causes, but she was certainly a role model.”
Latting was 94 when she died Saturday. Elected to the city council in 1967 and then as mayor from 1971-1983, she is considered the first woman elected to serve a major U.S. city.
Her son, Jim Latting, attributed her years of success as a public servant and volunteer in the city to her diligence.
He said a story shared earlier in the day by her former co-worker was typical of most people's experiences with his mother.
“She said after the council meeting Mom would read every single page of every document, and she would point at one typo in the middle of the page and refuse to sign it until it was corrected,” he said, laughing.
Jim Latting was joined at city hall Thursday by his sisters, Nancy Spelman and Cynthia Weimer. Their father, Trimble Latting, died in 1996 and a fourth sibling, Francelia Wilson, died in 2007.
One of Latting's callers on Thursday said she brought her husband and two daughters up from McAlester to pay tribute to a woman she admired all her life.
Emily Burch Dunagin said she knew Latting all her life, having been a close friend to her daughter in high school.
“She would take us to the movies if we would agree to go back to her home and discuss the movie — and we did,” Dunagin said. “We would go back to her house and she'd have cookies and stuff and we'd discuss it.”
Bob Anthony, who serves on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said he owes his public service career to Latting.
She was the one who encouraged him to run for his first political office — city council, he said.
They knew each other because her father was business partners with his grandfather, he said, and he later preceded her son as editor of the high school newspaper.
“I had never even been to city hall before I announced I was going to run,” Anthony said. “She believed, I think, in public service in the best sense of the word.”
Weimer said Thursday's unprecedented memorial at city hall reflected the legacy of her mother.
“It's in keeping with what she did her entire life — being a maverick, being a pioneer for women in general,” Weimer said. “She just continues to set it.”
Latting's funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4400 N Shartel.