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Editor, publisher of Oklahoma City Friday newspaper dies at 94

Oklahoma journalist J. Leland Gourley was remembered by friends as thinking of community first and foremost.
by Juliana Keeping and Adam Kemp Modified: October 19, 2013 at 10:21 pm •  Published: October 19, 2013

“He just charged ahead.”

Janna Rousey, the daughter of J. Leland Gourley, remembered her dad as a man who always pushed forward, no matter what.

Gourley, the editor and publisher of Oklahoma City Friday newspaper and a longtime journalism, business and civic leader in Oklahoma, has died. He was 94.

Gourley broke his hip after taking a fall while on a trip to Columbus, Ohio, said his wife of 37 years, Vicki Clark Gourley. The couple returned home, and Gourley was on the way to a rehabilitation center Saturday when he died, Vicki Gourley said.

“We've traveled, published the newspaper, served on boards and just had a fabulous life,” Vicki Gourley said.

His life did not come without obstacles.

At 12, Leland Gourley became an orphan. His mother had died of tuberculosis and his father left for the oil fields and never came home. It was the height of the Great Depression when Gourley was shuffled from town to town, state to state, relative to relative. He started his working life at 12, shoveling coal to fuel the fire at his school in the mornings. But in the ninth grade, his life took a new path. He was hired as a high school correspondent for a small-town Missouri newspaper.

It stuck.

“When he got that job on the school newspaper, when they were looking for a high school correspondent, that gave him the opportunity to see where he could go with his gift of writing,” Vicki Gourley said.

His passion for journalism led him to the University of Oklahoma and eventually to The Associated Press, where he became state editor before being drafted into the Army for World War II. He kept reporting for the military while he served the country.

“Going on to OU and working on The Oklahoma Daily, it was all he ever wanted to do after that,” Vicki Gourley said.

Upon his return to Oklahoma, Gourley bought a daily paper, the Henryetta Free-Lance.

He earned a reputation as an innovator who took risks and never shied from controversy, said Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association.

His life took a different turn when James Howard Edmondson invited Gourley to run his campaign for governor.

The slogan “Big Red E,” a reference to Edmondson's red hair and OU's powerhouse football team, was “classic Leland Gourley way of communicating,” Thomas said. Edmondson was elected in 1958.

Former Gov. George Nigh was running alongside Edmondson for lieutenant governor when he met Gourley. They became lifelong friends.

“I was able, from my position, to see up close and personal that Leland Gourley was a tremendous contributor to the modernization of Oklahoma government,” Nigh said.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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