McALESTER — Former District 7 state Sen. Gene Stipe, during his more than a half-century in the state Legislature and through his long law practice, made his influence felt in a number of areas.
Stipe, a coal miner’s son who grew up to become known as the “dean” of the Oklahoma State Senate, before he resigned following a federal investigation into a Third District Congressional race, died peacefully Saturday at his McAlester home.
McAlester attorney Warren Gotcher said Stipe, 85, served as a mentor to not only him, but to others as well.
“He was a great individual and a mentor to every lawyer living in Pittsburg County and southeastern Oklahoma,” Gotcher said. “I can’t express how much I learned from him.”
Dan Reynolds served as warden at the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown from 1988 to 1991, and he also served as the warden at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester from 1991 until 1994.
“He was a big supporter of corrections," Reynolds said of Stipe. “He did a lot for corrections during my tenure, as well as for the employees.”
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who is a Republican, called Stipe, an ardent Democrat, “a legend in Oklahoma politics.”
Fallin served in the state House and as Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor while Stipe served in the Senate. She said he seemed to know all of his constituents by name and she said her thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
Former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh has been listed as one of those who will deliver a eulogy at Stipe’s funeral, set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the First Baptist Church in McAlester.
Stipe family friend Barry Moore released a statement from Nigh.
“In 1948, a coal miner’s son, while living in the Norman fire station and attending law school at the University of Oklahoma, was elected as the youngest member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He went on to become the longest serving state legislator in U.S. history,” Nigh said in the statement.
“He truly believed in public service,” Nigh said. He always encouraged me to also be involved. Thanks, Gene.”
Ron Cunningham, of Hartshorne, recalled how Stipe helped get a training facility made part of a college.
“He was always a real advocate of mining,” Cunningham said, noting that Stipe’s father, J.I. Stipe, had been a coal miner. Cunningham said that Gene Stipe “supported practically everything that dealt with mining.”
Cunningham, the former director of the Oklahoma Miner Training Institute, recalled how he and others spoke to Stipe about getting the facility moved from its then-location in the Carbon area.
“We approached him about moving us to Eastern Oklahoma State College in 1988, so he introduced legislation that got us moved to Eastern,” Cunningham said.
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