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May 5, 1999

Henry S. Johnston would have enjoyed the ceremony last week in the Oklahoma State Senate Chamber when his portrait was formally unveiled. He relished all his moments in the limelight, and a touch of irony always added zest. This occasion offered quantities of both.

As a gallery of young people and adults looked on from their seats in the balcony surrounding the Chamber, an oil painting of the former governor and one-time Senate president pro tempore was unveiled. A standing ovation by senators on the floor of the Chamber and spectators in the visitors' gallery gave some clue to the degree of respect the late Perry attorney now receives. Sad to say, though, probably few, if any, of the youngsters knew who Henry S. Johnston was, and I'm not even sure if all the adults were aware of the role he played in the founding and development of this great state.

Mr. Johnston was elected governor of Oklahoma in 1926 but was impeached and ousted from office by the State Senate midway through his four-year term. The Senators found him not guilty of any criminal intent, but lowered the boom on a general accusation of "incompetency." Then in 1932 he was elected to the State Senate from the district composed of Pawnee and Noble counties. How's that for irony? He rejoined state government as a part of the very body that had only recently removed him from the governor's office. He thus rubbed elbows with many of the gentlemen who had found him guilty of a vague charge of "incompetency." Mr. Johnston loved to tell that story.

Years later, in 1965, he died at his home in Perry about 24 hours after the State Legislature took formal steps to soften the stigma of his impeachment. He lived to the age of 97, just long enough to have a moment of atonement from his humiliation.

Long before his political battles began as governor, Mr. Johnston served this state as the first president pro tempore of the State Senate. That is the primary reason his portrait is now hanging in the Senate Lounge. He also had been the convening officer for the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention in Guthrie when Oklahoma's basic laws were established. He was a political figure throughout his life in this state, which he adopted as his own at the time of the Cherokee Outlet land opening on September 16, 1893. His name is entwined in the history of Oklahoma.

State Senator Robert Milacek, whose district includes a portion of Noble county, commissioned Mr. Johnson's portrait. The excellent painting was executed by the gifted young artist Mike Wimmer of Norman. The public may view the work in the Senate Lounge any time the Senate is in session. A committee headed by Charles Hall of the Exchange Bank & Trust Co. spearheaded the drive for funds in the Perry area, and more contributions are needed to bring the effort to conclusion. All gifts are tax deductible. Further information can be obtained from Mr. Hall at the bank. Your participation in this campaign will be appreciated and formally acknowledged.

There is much more to say about the life of Henry S. Johnston, but volumes would be required to report all of it. In the meantime, you're invited to share in this tribute by adding to the gifts already received.