Calling Henry Bellmon "an iconic public servant and statesman,” Gov. Brad Henry said Tuesday he lost a "true friend and my mentor ... who always stressed deeds over words.”
"All Oklahomans and indeed all Americans are better off because of Henry Bellmon’s quiet, steady, strong and effective leadership,” the governor said.
"He was such a great man who transcended politics,” said Henry, 46, who in 1983 met Bellmon, Oklahoma’s first Republican governor, while in college working for then-Gov. George Nigh.
Nigh had named Bellmon director of the state Department of Human Services, and Henry said he was touched that Bellmon took out time to talk to a lowly staffer such as himself.
A year later, Henry, back in college, said he signed up for a weekly three-hour political science course taught by Bellmon at the University of Oklahoma.
"It was the most fascinating experience of my collegiate career,” Henry said. "It was that experience in that political science class in 1984 that probably moved me more than anything else to want to help people, to want to make a difference.”
Henry said he was moved a year ago at the end of a state Capitol ceremony in honor of Bellmon’s service in World War II fighting on Iwo Jima when the former governor and U.S. senator pulled an item from his pocket to give him.
"He pulled out of his pocket one of his Marine Corps medallions and he said, ‘I want you to have this; this is the only one I brought today,’” Henry said.
The medallion is displayed in a case in his office, Henry said.