Exhibit Draws Former Governors Together

Wednesday, February 14th 2007, 10:22 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Gov. Brad Henry and six former governors gathered together Tuesday night to open a centennial exhibit that focuses on turning points in the lives of the men who became chief executives of the state.

It was the first public appearance in Oklahoma in three decades for former Gov. David Hall, the charismatic ex-Tulsa prosecutor who spent 18 months in prison on federal extortion and conspiracy charges.

Other governors in the spotlight were Republican Henry Bellmon, who served two terms two decades apart; Democrat George Nigh, who served two full terms and two abbreviated terms; Democrat David Boren, former U.S. senator and now University of Oklahoma president; Republican Frank Keating, another two-term governor; and Democrat David Walters.

More than 1,000 well-wishers cheered the governors during a ceremony held at the Oklahoma History Center, with the Capitol in the background.

Earlier, the governors had dinner together and reminisced about their experiences.

"It is a beautiful exhibit," Henry said. "It was surrealistic to get all the living governors together, sitting down and having dinner. We had a good time."

"We shot a lot of bull," Nigh said. "We had lots of fun and we told stories of each other that I won't repeat here."

"It was good to see a lot of old friends in the crowd. Nights like this bring back a lot of good memories. You forget about the bad ones," Bellmon said.

Hall's return drew much attention as old friends and many who had not met the former governor lined up for more than an hour after the ceremony to shake his hand and get their picture taken with him.

Despite his legal troubles that came to a head soon after he left office in 1975, Hall said he had nothing but love for Oklahoma and its people.

"Tonight I saw more outpouring of love than I've ever received," said the 76-year-old Hall, who now lives in San Diego.

The governors were accompanied by their wives who are featured in a third-floor exhibit.

The first floor housed the First Families of Oklahoma display and gave glimpses into events that led to the election of every Oklahoma governor since statehood in 1907.

The exhibit is scheduled to be on display through the end of the year, but Bob Blackburn, director of the History Center, said there is a lot of sentiment to make it a permanent exhibit.

The display concentrates on the lives of each governor and not his politics.

"Our hope is to put a human face on the leaders who have been willing to serve the people," Blackburn said.

"We are telling each governor's story from childhood to the decision to run for office, the campaign and the inauguration," he said.

Inside the exhibit, graphic panels offer short biographies, accompanied by "video scrapbooks." Each video scrapbook will, at the push of a button, display pictures of the governor from childhood through his inauguration.

Scattered throughout the gallery are artifact cases featuring items donated by or loaned by each governor, including campaign materials and more personal mementoes.

Scores of relatives of Oklahoma's 26 governors attended the event, including Margaret Haskell Potter of Tulsa, great-granddaughter of Gov. Charles Haskell, the state's first governor.

"It's a wonderful exhibit of a state with a fascinating history," said Potter, who got a close-up look at the Bible used when her great-grandfather took his oath of office.

"One of the great things about this is history is so close to us as a young state that it continues to inspire use," Boren said. "With the passage of time, the differences we had on parties or issues just go away and it's just one big fraternity."

The exhibit included several pictures of the governors as children or young men.

A curly haired Henry was shown in a scrapbook as a member of the Future Farmers of America.

Walters was shown with bushy hair and dark mustache. "I forgot I had that big mustache," he said.