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'Everybody was his buddy'
Remembering a life in and out of the arena

by Bryan Painter Modified: July 9, 2008 at 12:43 pm •  Published: July 9, 2008
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Clem McSpadden of Chelsea, a man whose distinct Western voice was known from the marble floors of the state Capitol to the dirt rodeo arenas across America, died Monday night at age 82 at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after a lengthy battle with cancer.

McSpadden, the grandnephew of Will Rogers, was born Nov. 9, 1925, in Bushyhead to Herb and Madalyn McSpadden.

He was only 2 years old when the family moved to Will Rogers' ranch at Oologah so his father could manage the operation.

"All that we knew when I was a kid was that everybody liked Uncle Will, that he made movies, which was in my mind about like a guy going up in a space shuttle now,” McSpadden once said. "He would come by two or three times a year. He was always in a hurry, but he always took time to visit.”

Man of accomplishments
Like his great-uncle, McSpadden was successfully diverse.

The former World War II naval officer was also a former U.S. representative, the first U.S. citizen to announce the Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Finals, and an inductee into many Halls of Fame, including the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma State University Alumni Hall of Fame.

He's also the man who hired Reba McEntire to sing the national anthem at the National Finals Rodeo.

Although he was a man with pleasant tones, McSpadden was known for his determination and strong will. He attributed that to his raising.

Though growing up during the Depression posed some struggles, it also yielded blessings "because no one really had the money,” so they found fun in mostly whatever life brought.

"I had a very loving mother and father,” he said.

By 1955 he was elected to the state Senate, where he served until 1972, including two terms as president pro tempore. He was the youngest senator elected president pro tempore and the first to serve consecutive terms.

In 1972, McSpadden was elected to Congress and became the first freshman to serve on the prestigious Rules Committee. He also formed and led the First Congressional Rural Caucus, starting with six members.

Two years after going to Washington, he ran for governor of Oklahoma, receiving the most votes in the Democratic primary before losing in the runoff primary to David Boren.

Life outside political arena
Although well-accomplished in the political arena, his favorite arena was that of the rodeo.

Ranch-raised, his first heroes were cowboys, which contributed heavily to the fact that by his teens he was a professional calf roper and steer wrestler. And that in turn led him to the title for which he was best known.

In 1947, some cowboys suggested McSpadden announce a rodeo when the scheduled announcer couldn't make. The 22-year-old earned $25 a performance for four nights as announcer and $286 for winning the calf roping.

Slideshow: Collected Wisdom of Clem McSpadden Slideshow: Clem McSpadden, 1925 - 2008 Sign/view the guest book for Clem McSpadden

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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"I was always really pleased when we'd get to a rodeo and Clem was announcing. Not only did he have a great rodeo voice, but his stories and all the background he gave about each contestant was great.” Reba McEntire

"Clem has always been more or less a part of the family. We grew up while he was announcing my dad, and when I started rodeoing he announced me.” Pake McEntire

"Clem was the godfather of all of 'em. He was the voice of rodeo. Clem McSpadden has done more for our sport than any other individual.” Roy Cooper

The following are quotes from Clem McSpadden:

On his admiration for rodeo cowboys: "I am the luckiest person in the world because I've made a living doing what I want to do with the people I want to do it with. There is a camaraderie among rodeo cowboys. ”

On politics: "Two arenas I have been in: Political arena. Rodeo arena. ... A bull in each profession. But the bull in the rodeo arena starts out more genuine than the bull in the hallowed halls of the state Senate, the House of Representatives or Congress.”

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