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 hurry, but he always took time to visit."
Like his great-uncle, McSpadden was successfully diverse.
The former World War II naval officer was also a former U.S. Congressman, the first U.S. citizen to announce the Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Finals and inductee into many Halls of Fame, including the National Cowboy and 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 chaired 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.
Although well-accomplished in the political arena, his favorite arena was that of 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 it to Davenport, Iowa. The 22-year-old earned $25 a performance for four nights as announcer and $286 for winning the calf roping.
"I had money stuffed in every pocket I had," he said. "I thought I'd never see another poor day — and I haven't. People like Donna, Bart and I are very rich with the friends we have."
McSpadden announced rodeos in 41 states, Canada and Mexico.
He managed the National Finals Rodeo for 18 years, bringing it into the black after financial losses in Dallas and Los Angeles.
And in addition to announcing rodeos for 60 years, he also provided rodeo commentary on nationally televised events.
He was not only a rodeo announcer, but a fan as well.
Billy Etbauer of Edmond, a five-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion saddle bronc rider, was a personal favorite.
"I don't know if you could say enough good about Clem," Etbauer said Tuesday. "He knew everything about everything rodeo and was just the greatest guy there was. Everybody was his buddy and that's just the way it was. To me, you don't get any better than that."
Roy Duvall of Checotah is a three-time world champion steer wrestler. The cowboy and announcer had known one another for many decades.
"He meant everything to rodeo," Duvall said Tuesday. "We were real good friends. And he had a voice like nobody else I ever heard."
McSpadden used his passion for the sport and his position in it to help many others such as McEntire.
"We paid her $10 for the first four or five years, and then we raised our budget for personnel to $25," he said. "I thought she was worth $25 a performance."
McSpadden and McEntire did the National Finals Rodeo opening in Las Vegas in 2005 and Clem again gave her a $10 bill.
Reba McEntire and husband Narvel Blackstock told him, "Clem, this is what your $10 bought" alluding to her successful career.
"Clem opened so many doors for us,' McEntire said Tuesday. "The Singing McEntires sang at his fundraisers for governor and we were all close friends.
"To be around Donna and Clem was just like being around family," she said of McSpadden and his wife Donna McSpadden. "He helped me in my career and he helped me be a better person because he was so low key, calm, professional and always prepared."
His paternal great-grandfather, Clem Rogers, established a trading post in what is now Rogers County before the Civil War, and his grandmother Sallie McSpadden was Will Rogers' sister.
Survivors include wife Donna McSpadden; son Bart McSpadden and wife Kate McSpadden and their children, Noah, Chloe, Tucker and Luke; daughter Kay and husband Joe Lucas of Edmond; son Paul and wife Connie McSpadden of Richardson, Texas, and their children John McSpadden of Richardson, Texas and James McSpadden of Oklahoma City.
Clem McSpadden was preceded in death by his father and mother, Herb and Madalyn McSpadden of Chelsea, and brothers Trent McSpadden and Bob McSpadden.
Funeral arrangements for McSpadden are pending.
Contributing: Staff Writers Ed Godfrey, Brian Sargent and Susan Simpson.
The Cowboy's Prayer
Our gracious and Heavenly Father,
We pause in the midst of this festive occasion,
mindful and thoughtful of the guidance that You
have given us.
As cowboys, Lord, we don't ask for any special favors.
We ask only that you will let us compete in this
arena as in life's arena.
We don't ask that we never break a barrier, draw
a steer that won't lay, draw around a chute-fighting
horse or a bull that is impossible to ride.
Help us compete in life as honest as the horse we
ride and in a manner as clean and pure as the wind
that blows across this western country.
So, when we make that last ride, that we know is
inevitable, to the country up there — where the grass
is green and lush and stirrup high and the water runs
crystal clear and deep, You will tell us, as we enter
that Arena, our entry fees are paid.
We ask these things in Christ's name.
By: Clem McSpadden
Clem McSpadden facts and accomplishments
PRCA board member, 1964-1970.
President of the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA), 1970-1971.
PRCA announcer for ABC'S "Wide World of Sports" 1961-1965.
First U.S. announcer at Calgary (Alberta, Canada) Stampede and Canadian Finals Rodeo.
Announcer at National Finals Rodeo.
General manager of the National Finals Rodeo.
PRCA Announcer of the Year, 1986.
Rodeo Man of the Year - National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1986.
Oklahoma State Senate, served two terms as president pro tempore, 1955-1972.
U.S. House of Representatives, 1972-1974.Served on Rules Committee (first freshman in history of U.S. Congress). Founded Congressional Rural Caucus 1973.
Elected to Rodeo Historical Society National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1989.
Inducted into ProRodeo Hall of Fame, 1990.
Inducted into Oklahoma Hall of Fame, 1990.
Inducted into Oklahoma State University Hall of Fame 2002.
Labor Day Pasture Roping at the Bushyhead Ranch, 1983-2008.
Served as a Naval officer during World Ward II before graduating from Oklahoma A&M in 1948.
Received the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum's Chester A. Reynolds Award.