August 1, 2000
With your kind indulgence, permit me to submit herewith a few personal observations...
My first awareness of Shirley Bellmon was around 1946 or 1947. Her brand new husband, Henry, was one of the youngest members of the Oklahoma Legislature's House of Representatives and he had brought his new bride to some kind of dinner (perhaps a Chamber of Commerce banquet) in the basement of the old Methodist church in Perry. She was a raven-haired, dark-eyed beauty and all of us lonely bachelors admired his choice. They were Billings area farmers and I had barely begun to know them.
Fast forward a few years to a time when Henry and Shirley had joined the Perry Presbyterian Church, where they belonged to a new study group called the Presbyweds. Laura and I also were members and we enjoyed meeting once or twice a month in one another's home. After a discussion period, refreshments were served and the group had a period of just visiting. It was a friendly, compatible group, and we all came to know each other much better. We always looked forward to the times when meetings were scheduled in the Bellmons' farm home, east of Billings, because Shirley invariably had some fine goodies to serve. Henry also was teacher of the Truthseekers Sunday School class, composed of young married couples in the church. The class still meets, although we are no longer "young marrieds" and Henry has been on leave of absence as teacher ever since his first campaign for governor in the 1960s. His close friend, Ed Malzhan, has been substituting temporarily for him ever since that time.
In the intervening years, Henry has been governor of Oklahoma two times and served as a U.S. Senator for two terms. Through all that, Shirley was a worker and a leader in his campaigns for office and an admirable representative of this state as his wife in both capacities. The public's great affection for her was very evident last week at a memorial service in the Presbyterian Church, attended by something like 500 friends and family. She was indeed a special lady, just the right choice to complement her husband in his political and private life. You know the stories of her various enterprises, her love of Billings and Oklahoma in general, and her great reservoir of energy. She is going to be missed not only by her husband, their three daughters, grandchildren, and other family members, but also by an adoring public that really didn't have enough time to know her as well as they wished.
I cannot close this column without a commendation for the Stagecoach Community Theatre's production of "Oklahoma!" the past two weekends. Artistically and technically it was one of the finest offerings provided by this group of folks in the 25-year history of Stagecoach. Bravo and encore!