March 16, 1995
Next Saturday morning they'll be auctioning off the home and personal property of my late neighbor, Paul W Cress. He was a man of many unique qualities and a career that took him to great heights, but his personal life was marked with some tragedies and bitter disappointments. In short, he was pretty much Everyman, only more so.
He himself was not an early day settler here, but his parents came to Perry within a year after the opening of the Cherokee Strip in 1893 and Paul was born here in 1904. His father, P. W. Cress, became one of Oklahoma's best known attorneys. As a young man, P. W.'s fondest hope was that his two sons, Paul and Erie, would someday join him here in the practice of law.
Erie, older than Paul by ten years, chose instead to become a professional soldier, but Paul received his law degree at OU and in 1929 became his father's partner in the firm of Cress Tebbe & Cress, along with Gerald W. Tebbe. Other partners came and went through the years, but the firm always bore the Cress family imprimatur.
Paul loved this community and its people dearly. He was steeped in the saga of the Cherokee Strip. From his father and his beloved mother, Minnie, he heard first-hand accounts of how things were in the wilderness that became Oklahoma and it was a romance that he never tired of recalling. It was one of many subjects he could discuss at length with knowledge, passion, charm, affection and wit.
He was as diverse in his interests as anyone I've ever known. His pipes brought him a special pleasure, and even if a lifetime of smoking may have contributed to his malignancy he never gave up the habit. Through the years he accumulated a marvelous collection of pipes, but some hooligan stole most of them one day and only a small portion was later recovered. That was just one of the things that really hurt him.
Paul grew up adoring his mother. When she died during the flu epidemic of 1917, he was only 14. Paul was devastated. His father remarried in 1920 and Paul found it hard to adjust. In due time he also learned to love his step-mother, Della, and the two were fully reconciled. Paul freely gave her credit for making his father's remaining years happy. Similarly, he became close to his half-sister, Marjory Jean, who now lives in Oklahoma City.
Paul's wife, Marie, also came from pioneer Cherokee Strip stock. She was born in Grant county and met Paul when both were students at OU. Marie taught school here one year, then married Paul in 1930. They had one child, a daughter, Sherry Marie, who died of cancer in 1977 at the age of 45. Sherry was never married so Paul and Marie had no grandchildren, and the loss of their only child was something they were never able to fully overcome.
Marie's death in 1991 was another bitter pill for Paul. She had suffered through a long illness and both of them were fully prepared, fully aware of each other's mortality, but Paul found himself alone in the twilight of his life and it was a trying experience. He never allowed that sadness, nor his own illness, to force him into a reclusive state. Daily he donned his trademark jaunty hat and bow tie, and stayed in touch with his friends. Visitors were always welcome at his comfortable home, providing they came before his usual bedtime in the late afternoon. He habitually arose about 3 a.m. and drove downtown for the first of many cups of coffee each day.
Paul was our county attorney, county judge and district judge. After his wartime service as an Air Force officer, he was appointed U.S. attorney for the Western district of Oklahoma by President Eisenhower. He successfully prosecuted some high-profile cases for the U.S. government in that capacity.
Paul was an excellent story-teller, reeling off personal anecdotes and never-ending tales of Perry's early days and its many fascinating citizens as long as he was able to converse. His final days were not pleasant, for Paul realized that his time for leaving us was at hand. As part of his preparation for that, he directed in his will that generous bequests were to be awarded to the local Cherokee Strip Museum, Perry Memorial Hospital and the First United Methodist church.
Paul died a few weeks back, after a long and courageous battle with cancer, and I only hope he knew how highly he was regarded in this community. We certainly will miss him.