Former First Lady, Bellmon Dies

Monday, July 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Former first lady Shirley Bellmon died of an apparent heart attack Monday while vacationing with her family in Cape Cod, Mass., Andrew Tevington said.

Tevington, who was Gov. Henry Bellmon's general counsel, said Mrs. Bellmon was window shopping with her daughters when she experienced shortness of breath and an apparent heart attack. She could not be revived. Mrs. Bellmon was 72.

Henry Bellmon, Oklahoma's first Republican governor, was in Massachusetts but was not present when his wife was stricken, Tevington said.

Shirley Osborn Bellmon was born and raised in Billings, six miles from the home of her future husband. She met Henry Bellmon in 1946 at the Methodist Church she attended. They were married on Jan. 24, 1947. At the time, he was a state representative.

Mrs. Bellmon had a longtime interest in sewing and crafts and designed clothing under the "Shir-Lee" label. She also operated the First Lady's Doll Factory, which produces seasonal dolls that are sold through a catalog. Most recently, she bought the Main Street Cafe in Billings, the town's only restaurant, and renamed it the First Lady Cafe.

Her husband served twice as governor, from 1963-1967 and from1987-1991. In between his terms as governor, he served two terms as U.S. Senator before returning to the family farm near Billings.

Candy Shuemake, who cleaned the Bellmons' house for five years and also helped out at the First Lady Cafe, said Mrs. Bellmon was caring and down-to-earth, more apt to tell stories from her childhood than about her past as Oklahoma's first lady. "When I first met her I figured she was just an average person. She treated everybody the same.”

"She did anything for anybody that she could. She gave people chances and always gave them the benefit of the doubt." Funeral arrangements are pending, including a planned memorial service at the First Presbyterian Church of Perry, Tevington said.