Former Oklahoma City Mayor Patience Latting, who led the city from 1971 to 1983 and was the first woman elected mayor of a U.S. city with more than 350,000 residents, died Saturday at the age of 94.
Friends and peers remembered Latting on Sunday as the moral compass that guided the city long after she left politics.
Fran Cory worked as the executive secretary for five Oklahoma City mayors starting with Latting. She said Latting was a reformer who established a mindset toward city government that her successors have had to live up to.
“She wanted accountability in government,” Cory said. “It was the taxpayer's dollar, and she wanted to be able to account for that with the citizens. It went from the good old boys to the good old rules.”
Latting was born Aug. 27 1918 in Texhoma. She graduated with honors from the University of Oklahoma in 1938 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and earned a master's degree in economics and statistics from Columbia University in 1939.
Her political career began with her involvement in the Parent Teacher Association and the League of Women Voters. While volunteering with the League of Women Voters in the early 1960s, she noticed discrepancies in how the state's legislative district lines were drawn, with urban areas being underrepresented by districts that had not been redrawn since statehood.
In 1964, she served as a witness before a federal court reviewing the legality of the 1964 election. She was then involved in redrawing new district lines. Using her background in mathematics and statistics, she helped draw district lines that more accurately represented the state's population.
She won a seat on the city council in 1967, becoming the first female member of the council.
Her career moved on to public office through volunteer efforts. She worked hard for a city council slate nominated by a 1960s reform group, the Association for Responsible Government. On its second slate in 1967 was the name of Patience Latting.
As the Ward 2 councilman, she quickly gained a reputation as one who did her homework. No detail of a tedious zoning case or complex public contract escaped her scrutiny.
Latting said she decided to run for mayor because she was convinced entrenched officials were using public funds for political gain and were affecting hiring and firing at city hall.
Cory said Latting was a private person who ran for mayor because she thought that was the only way to have her voice heard and taken seriously.
“Women at that time didn't feel like they had the rights that they do today,” Cory said. “It was not even heard of when she was mayor that there would be a female firefighter or that there would be a female police officer on the streets.”
In 1971, she became the first female mayor of an American city of more than 350,000 people. The first years of her tenure continued to include struggles with the anti-reform council majority.
Once when she was out of town and a councilman from the opposing faction was presiding over a council meeting, the anti- Latting bloc threw out all her nominations to city boards and commissions. Instead, they reappointed incumbents. Those efforts were later credited with giving Latting the support she needed to help followers win a majority at the next municipal elections.
Cory said she admired Latting greatly for the grace she showed while fighting her political battles.
“She was so refined,” Cory said. “She was just the epitome of being a lady. She was very intelligent. She didn't talk haphazardly. Everything she said meant something. She was an incredible influence in my life. She taught me a lot about ethics and doing what is right.”
Oklahoma City went through enormous change and growth during Latting's time as mayor. Her tenure included a comprehensive master development plan. The city's manufacturing base grew during her time in office with the addition of thousands of jobs at new plants built by Xerox and General Motors. Hundreds of downtown buildings were razed, and new skyscrapers took their place as part of the ongoing Urban Renewal effort under Latting's leadership.
When Latting announced in 1983 that she would not run for a fourth term, her fellow city officials praised her integrity and grace.
“She didn't pick people who would kowtow to her,” then-Ward 8 Councilman Robert M. Frank said. “She always selected people who would exercise independent judgment. I've always been a great admirer of her honesty. Although we didn't always agree, no one ever questioned her integrity.”
Latting was named to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1980 and received the Constitution Award from Rogers State College in 1995 for her dedication to public service and devotion to constitutional ideas.
A bust of Latting was unveiled at the entrance to the mayor's office at City Hall in 2005. In 2011, Latting was honored with the city's newest library, NW 122 and MacArthur Avenue, being named the Patience Latting Library. She attended the opening ceremony in May.
She was involved in numerous volunteer organizations after retiring from public life, including The Support Center of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Beautiful and the Oklahoma Heritage Association.