George Nigh has long been 'Four' Oklahoma

Nigh was sworn in as Oklahoma's governor four times, served four terms as lieutenant governor and four terms as a state representative.
by Bryan Painter Published: May 19, 2013

They wanted to persuade the House to give Langston more funding.

With the governor out of state, Nigh was acting as governor. Greiner was covering the Senate, so he was able to walk around and observe.

“It's kind of like fate said, ‘Tag, you're it, and there he is,'” Greiner said. “I felt his approach to things had pretty much saved the day, because that could have been a very explosive situation.”

Nigh told Greiner years later that as governor that day, he got the Capitol police together and told them, “I do not want to see a New York Times tomorrow morning with a picture of a Capitol police officer slugging one of these Langston students.”

“So Nigh set the tone,” Greiner said. “The kids were very polite. I just felt like he acted very responsibly, and he really made sure nothing happened that day that would have caused harm to anybody, and then of course I found out later why I felt that way.

“I thought it was one of his finest hours, and he hadn't even become governor yet.”

Unity

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said the symposium speakers took him back to the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

“In looking at those times, it was a time of division,” Blackburn said. “There was Watergate, riots across the country and the Vietnam War splitting us apart. It was a period of division.

“I think George Nigh was a force for unity in the state, and I think he did it through his policies. He wanted to serve everyone in the state.

“He wanted to include women in government. He wanted to include minorities. He helped reorganize boards and commissions. He created some diversity we'd never had before.”

Some speakers noted how Nigh led the state in times of boom and in bust and adjusted appropriately.

“It wasn't just ideology, it wasn't governing by the next headlines. It was governing for what's the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” Blackburn said.

The lucky one

Even when he wasn't in office, Nigh was winning people over.

Bob Burke, in “Good Guys Wear White Hats: The Life of George Nigh,” wrote that on Jan. 14, 1963, Bellmon was sworn in as governor. Nigh was out of government and out of a job.

So Nigh started a public relations firm and opened offices in downtown Oklahoma City. It was there he met Donna Mashburn, who worked for Trans World Airlines as a ticket agent at its desk in the Skirvin Hotel.

Donna was a single parent with a 10-year-old son from a previous marriage. Nigh, known as an eligible bachelor, was introduced to Donna.

They began dating.

“Everybody kept telling me how lucky I was, and I thought ‘Well, OK, maybe I better do this,'” Donna Nigh said. “But then later, when we married, I kept trying to figure out where this lucky stuff came in, because he had just finished a campaign and was a hundred thousand dollars in debt.

“He did not have a house and he did not have a car. I had a house, I had a car, and I wasn't in debt.

“I never could figure out why I was the lucky one. But as it turned out, I really was the lucky one.”

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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