McALESTER — Former state Sen. Gene Stipe, one of the most powerful and colorful politicians in Oklahoma history died at 6:15 p.m. Saturday after a lengthy illness. He was 85.
Stipe's state legislative career, the longest in Oklahoma history, was tarnished in the end when he pleaded guilty in 2003 to federal campaign violations. He was later indicted again in 2007, but was found incompetent for legal proceedings.
Three previous times he had been indicted by the federal government, but he had managed to defeat the government each of those times.
Services, under the direction of Brumley-Mills Funeral Home, will be 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church of McAlester, 100 W Washington.
When he heard about the longtime legislator's death Saturday, former Gov. George Nigh, a McAlester native, said this about Stipe:
“In 1948 a coal miner's son, while living in the Norman fire station and attending law school at the University of Oklahoma, was elected as the youngest member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He went on to become the longest serving state legislator in U.S. history. He truly believed in public service. He always encouraged me to also be involved. Thanks, Gene.”
Stipe was the youngest Oklahoman to be elected to the state House of Representatives when he was first joined the Legislature in 1948. The record was later broken.
He was elected to the Senate in 1956.
By the time Stipe left his Senate office in 2003, the Democrat from McAlester had served 53 years in the state Legislature — a record that still stands.
Senior federal Judge Lee R. West of the Western District of Oklahoma issued a statement through Stipe's family and friends.
He said, “I am deeply saddened to hear of Gene Stipe's passing. He was an Oklahoma original. In his more than half century of public service, he helpedensure that each generation of Oklahomans was healthier, better educated, and more secure than the generation that preceded it. It is unlikely that anyone will ever exceed his contributions.”
Former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert V. Cullison said, “Gene was my mentor, my friend and someone I deeply admired and respected. I always valued his wisdom and his deep love for the state Senate. I will miss him.”
Revered by some and politically feared by others, Stipe was known as much for his use of political power to obtain state jobs for constituents as he was for the guile he displayed in Oklahoma courtrooms and on the floor of the Oklahoma Senate.
Constituents would line up at Stipe's McAlester law office on Saturdays to seek help, Nigh recalled. Stipe would stay until the last person went home.
University of Oklahoma president and former Oklahoma Gov. David Boren also remembered Stipe for his concerns about the downtrodden.
“Gene Stipe never forgot his own struggles with poverty in his younger years, and he constantly sought to help those in need in our society,” Boren said. “While we sometimes differed on political issues, I never doubted his heart-felt concern for others.”
Stipe was preceded in death by his wife, Agnes, in 2002.
He later married Mary Bea Thetford in Arkansas in December 2003.
Stipe was born in Blanco south of McAlester on Oct. 21, 1926.
Considered one of the brightest members of the Senate and one of Oklahoma's best trial lawyers, Stipe grew up on Peaceable Mountain near McAlester in an impoverished coal-mining family during the Great Depression.