About Henry Louis Bellmon
Henry Louis Bellmon (September 3, 1921 – September 29, 2009) was an American Republican politician from Oklahoma. He was a member of the Oklahoma Legislature, the 18th and 23rd Governor of Oklahoma (the first Republican to hold that office), and a two-term United States Senator.
Early life and career
Service in World War II
Bellmon was born in Tonkawa, Oklahoma and graduated from Billings High School in Billings, Oklahoma. He graduated from Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State University) in 1942 with a Bachelors Degree in agriculture. He was a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946. He was a tank platoon leader in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He took part in four amphibious landings on Pacific islands, including Iwo Jima. For his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and a Silver Star. After the war he returned to farming and took up politics.
Entry into Oklahoma politics
Bellmon served a single term in the Oklahoma House of Representatives (1946–1948). While in the legislature, in January 1947, he married Shirley Osborn, to whom he remained married until her death in 2000. In 1960 he served as the State Republican Party Chairman. Elected in 1962 as Oklahoma's first Republican governor since statehood in 1907, he served his first term from 1963 to 1967. While Governor, he served as the chairman of the Interstate Oil Compact Commission and as a member of the executive committee of the National Governor's Association. Under Oklahoma law at the time, a term limit was in place; he was not able to run for a second term.
In 1968, he was serving as the national chairman for Richard Nixon's presidential election campaign, but then decided to run for the U.S. Senate, and won, unseating U.S. Senator A.S. Mike Monroney. In the Democratic landslide of 1974, he managed to be reelected over Congressman Ed Edmondson by a very narrow margin. He did not run for a third term in 1980. During his service in the Senate, he sometimes took moderate positions that put him at odds with the largely conservative Oklahoma Republican Party: he supported Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan in the 1976 presidential election (even though the state delegation was committed to Reagan); he opposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit forced busing for the purpose of racially desegregating public schools; and he supported the Panama Canal treaty.
In 1976, Bellmon was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
During his second term he was the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. He was a co-founder and co-chairman of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. He chose not to run for re-election in 1980 and was succeeded by Republican Don Nickles.
Bellmon was appointed the interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services by Governor George Nigh, a Democrat, in 1982.
Returning to the Governor's mansion
In 1986, Oklahoma Republican leaders asked Bellmon if he would consider running for governor again (by now the term limit provision had been removed). Bellmon agreed to run, and in November Oklahoma voters returned Bellmon to the Governor's Mansion for a second term and served from January 12, 1987 to January 14, 1991. During his second tenure as Governor he chaired the Southern States Energy Board.
During his second term, Bellmon worked with Democrats in the Oklahoma legislature to pass an educational reform package, HB 1017, over the opposition of most Republicans. Bellmon chose not to seek reelection to a third term as governor in 1990, which Bellmon was allowed to do so since his two terms in office were nonconsecutive. The Republican candidate to replace him, Bill Price, promised to repeal HB 1017. However, Price was defeated by Democrat David Walters, whom Bellmon had defeated four years earlier.
Bellmon is notable for overseeing as Governor both Oklahoma's last pre-Furman execution (when James French was electrocuted in 1966) and its first post-Furman, when Charles Coleman was put to death by lethal injection in 1990.
Bellmon returned to his agriculture business interests. Bellmon also taught at Oklahoma City University, Central State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Oklahoma. Shirley Bellmon died in 2000; Bellmon married a longtime friend, Eloise Bollenbach, in 2002. A March 1, 2009 profile in The Oklahoman reported that he was living with Eloise in Kingfisher, Oklahoma; the article also reported that, despite suffering from Parkinson's Disease and a heart ailment, Bellmon was still operating his family farm in Billings.
He was inducted into the Oklahoma CareerTech Hall of Fame posthumously in 2011.
Bellmon died September 29, 2009 in Enid, Oklahoma at the age of 88 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He is buried at the Union Cemetery in Billings, Oklahoma.
Henry Bellmon Sustainability Awards
Logo for the Henry Bellmon Sustainability Awards.
In 2009 Tulsa Southside Rotary Club and Sustainable Tulsa received permission from Bellmon's daughters to name the Henry Bellmon Sustainability Awards after Henry Bellmon.
"Dad loved the land and never tired of teaching us about nature and its beauty and mystery. We hope to honor his legacy by teaching others and continuing to find better ways to live more sustainably with Earth." - Pat Hoerth, Ann McFerron, and Gail Wynne, Henry Bellmon’s daughters