The Norman Transcript

September 15, 2011

Jack Garner dies at age 84

By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript

Jack Garner — a Norman native who worked as an actor, singer, professional baseball player and golf pro — died Tuesday in California after a brief illness. He was 84.

He was the older brother of Hollywod legend James Garner. The oldest brother, the late Charles Bumgarner, was a longtime Norman school administrator who died in 1984 at age 60.

Jack Garner’s daughter, Liz Bumgarner, said her father had fallen and broken a hip last week. His heart was not strong enough for surgery and they were planning for longterm care when his condition worsened and he died, she said.

Jack Garner was a standout athlete at Norman High School and played on the 1945 state championship basketball team for Norman High. He later played professional baseball and worked as a golf professional at local courses.

Later in life, he was frequently cast in roles in his brother’s 1970s NBC TV series “The Rockford Files” and numerous other shows. Liz Bumgarner, said her father moved to California in the early 1960s. He most recently lived in Palm Desert, Calif.

Both Jack Garner and James Garner were raised in Norman and later changed their name from Bumgarner to Garner when they moved to California. Charles Bumgarner remained in Norman and retained the Bumgarner name.

“He had so many friends and still had some family in Norman,” Liz Bumgarner said of her father. “We had many great memories there.”

A memorial service is planned in California. Arrangements are under the direction of the Wiefels Palm Springs Mortuary.

The three Bumgarner sons were born in Norman to Mildred Scott Meek and Weldon Warren “Bill” Bumgarner. The family ran a general store at Denver Corner on the east side of Norman. Mrs. Bumgarner died when the boys were very young, and they lived with friends and relatives as their father struggled to find work during the Depression.

In his soon-to-be-published memoir, James Garner called his older brother “a hell of an athlete, and I always took a backseat to him.”

“At Norman High, he was a point guard on a championship basketball team and quarterbacked an all-state football team,” James Garner wrote. “But his best sport was baseball: Jack was a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for 11 years. He was a better athlete than I was and a lot more outgoing. I was always in his footsteps.”

Roy Hamilton, a longtime Norman friend of the family, said Jack was a tremendous athlete in high school.

“He was probably the greatest. No, he was the greatest all-around athlete that ever came out of Norman High,” said Hamilton, 81.

Hamilton said Jack Garner was chosen as All State in football, was on the championship basketball team, was pitcher on the baseball team and ran track. Before his senior year ended, he signed a professional baseball contract, eliminating him from playing in a state championship baseball game.

Another longtime Norman friend, Bill Saxon, said Jack was always the one to organize baseball games in the city park and included the neighborhood kids.

“If it had something to do with a ball, it was of interest to Jack,” Saxon said.

“He was in high school at a time when Norman really had some tremendous athletes. In those days, Norman went as far as Amarillo to play ball.”

After his lengthy stint in the minor baseball leagues, he married a woman he met in Florida and took a landscaping job at a golf course.

“He was just such a natural athlete, he became the groundskeeper, then learned how to play and then began teaching and eventually became a pro.”

Saxon remembered Jack as a talented singer who really enjoyed the small acting and singing jobs he took along the way.

“He had a great personality and he called all the women ‘darling.’ All the women loved him,” he said. “He had a great personality and never got away from his basic roots in Oklahoma.”