Former Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon dies

From staff reports Modified: September 29, 2009 at 6:21 pm •  Published: September 29, 2009
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p /> But he ran for the U.S. Senate two years later, defeating longtime Democratic Sen. Mike Monroney.

Bellmon had been serving as the national chairman of the Nixon for President Committee when he resigned to run for the Senate.

The outspoken Bellmon ruffled feathers in his own party in 1972 when he criticized the state Republican Party for not fielding more candidates that year.

He angered many Oklahomans, particularly those in Oklahoma City, when he refused to back legislation to outlaw busing to achieve racial equality in schools.

In 1976, he endorsed President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. Only trouble was, the Oklahoma Republican Party’s state delegation was committed to former California Gov. Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention.

In 1978, he endorsed the Panama Canal Treaty, causing an uproar in Oklahoma.

A year before the 1980 election, Bellmon announced he would not run again. He left the Senate in 1981, saying 12 years in Washington and the Senate was enough for “Shirley and me.”

He and Shirley returned to their farm in Billings, the place they always called home.

He was the interim welfare department director for Nigh in 1982.

In 1986, he announced he would run for governor, saying the state will be facing tough times but he would have felt “like a real shirker to sit it out.” He won by a narrow margin.

Bellmon pushed through bills to raise gasoline, diesel, sales, cigarette, beer and liquor taxes. Bellmon also pushed through House Bill 1017, a controversial school reform and tax act.

His biggest opponents in the Legislature were the legislators in his own party.

Bellmon also used his veto power more times than any other governor up to that time.

He also pushed and won voter approval for a constitutional amendment to shorten legislative sessions. Not every Bellmon plan was accepted.

In his second term as governor, Bellmon recommended phasing out the state Veterans Department. Between 2,000 and 2,500 veterans marched on the capitol, carrying flowers. As many as could crowded into the state House of Representatives Chamber where they were met by Bellmon, a Marine and Silver Star winner who fought at Saipan and at Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.

Bellmon explained his program, thanked the veterans for coming and then later abandoned that plan.

When he left the governor’s office the second time, he and Shirley returned to Billings, the family home. Bellmon didn’t quit working.

The former governor stayed active at Oklahoma State University, his alma mater, in a myriad of research projects and in directing the activities of the Oklahoma Alliance for Public Policy Research.

In 2000, Shirley Bellmon died unexpectedly in Cape Cod, Mass., where she was vacationing with Bellmon and other members of their family. Close friends said she was in good health as far as anyone knew. She had been an integral part of Bellmon’s successful campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.

In 2002, Bellmon remarried. He and Eloise Bollenbach married in a private ceremony in Perry. Eloise Bollenbach and her late husband, Kingfisher rancher Irvin K. Bollenbach, were longtime friends of the Bellmons.

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HENRY BELLMON TIMELINE

Sept. 3, 1921: Born on a farm near Tonkawa

1942: Graduates from Oklahoma State University

1942-46: Serves in U.S. Marine Corps

1946-48: Serves in state House of Representatives

1960: Becomes state Republican Party chairman

1962: Wins election as Oklahoma's first Republican governor

1963-67: Serves as Interstate Oil Compact Commission chairman

Joins executive committee of the National Governors Conference

1968: Wins election to U.S. Senate

1974: Wins second term in U.S. Senate

1980: Chooses not to seek third term in the U.S. Senate

1983: Named director of the state Department of Human Services by Democratic Gov. George Nigh

1986: Wins new term as Oklahoma's governor; retires from politics in 1991.

1997: Henry and Shirley Bellmon celebrate 50 years of marriage.

July 24, 2000: Shirley Bellmon passes away

April 6, 2002: Henry Bellmon weds longtime family friend Eloise Bollenbach

Sources: Biographical Directory of the U.S. Senate; Oklahoman Archive

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