NORMAN — Preston Trimble refers to himself as “a blessed man.” He counts the blessings on three fingers. “A full belly. Good health. Someone who cares about me.”
This former district attorney and district judge is focused on living each day to the fullest.
“Everyone is going to die,” said the man in his eighth decade. “The secret is to live each day” — and this from a man who faced death from a heart attack but who intends to keep moving and practicing law until the end.
His story is not one that started on a solid footing. He spent many of his earliest years in campgrounds for migrant workers in California. Back and forth between California and Oklahoma, Trimble said “we moved every time the rent was due.”
He ended up in high school in Pryor living with relatives, supporting his mother and three sisters delivering papers for two Tulsa newspapers, morning and evening.
With an eye to his own future, and intent on breaking the cycle of poverty that he had grown up with, Trimble entered the Navy to get the GI bill. With a father who was in and out of the home and could not be relied on, he said, “I listed my mother and sisters as dependents, and I sent home $50 every month for four years. That left me $13 for myself each month.”
By the time he left the Navy, his family was in California “so I could attend school there or in Oklahoma. I looked around at USC and UCLA. Too many people. I came to OU and have never left Norman.”
The GI bill carried him through school and he said “the government made a good investment in me. I now pay more in taxes than the government spent on educating me through law school. If it wasn’t for the GI bill, I would have been running a filling station in Mayes County and I wouldn’t own it.”
Graduating from law school in 1960, he took a job as an assistant county attorney. He was elected county attorney in January 1963, four years before the system changed to the district model serving multiple counties.
“I was the last Cleveland County attorney and the first district attorney serving Cleveland, McClain and Garvin counties,” Trimble said.
Trimble had that position for 15 years. During that time, he was elected president of the National District Attorneys Association.
“I was the first national president who was a DA in a small community,” he said.
Trimble was elected as district judge in 1979 and when he entered private practice in 1991, he had served 30 years in public law.
Over the years, Trimble saw changes in the system and in the community.
“When I first served on the bench, we would call about 125 people for a jury panel and I would know most of them. When I left, we would call 200 to 250 and if I knew any of them, it was amazing.”
This was largely due to the change in the law, which meant potential jurors were pulled from drivers’ license registrations rather than from tax rolls.
“It makes a big difference in the people selected for juries,” Trimble said.
Reflecting on his work in public office, he recalled being raked over the coals in the Oklahoma City press for his refusal to file charges in the 1970 Sloan-Benham murder case. Although lots of circumstances pointed to a certain individual, “there was no real evidence,” Trimble said.
Without evidence, the case was unwinnable, he said at the time.
His position was upheld years later when the suspected murderer, a Norman police officer at the time of the murders, was charged and then acquitted.
“No evidence” is Trimble’s terse summary.
While he is thankful for an education through law school in addition to military schools, the retired Air Force Reserve colonel said only two classes have really benefited him in life.
“One was a typing class I took with some skinny girls in the 11th grade. I type every day,” Trimble said.
The other class was in law school, a class on legal bibliography. It was that class that taught him to research case law, a task now handled by a secretary at her computer.
Trimble looks back on an amazing journey. He is the only one of his siblings to finish high school and the first college graduate in either side of the family.
“My three children were the second, third and fourth to finish college,” Trimble said.
He helps provide for nieces and nephews in an effort to break the poverty cycle.
“I have been blessed. All my life I have been trying to pay back for being blessed,” Trimble said.
Reared without any religious background, Trimble married into the Methodist church, he said, and became very active at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church. At one time, he taught a class of college age kids “during the Vietnam War, and we had some spirited discussions.”
The students presented him a Bible as a Christmas gift.
“I had never read the Bible,” he said.
Although someone suggested that he focus on the New Testament, Trimble felt it would be better to read the entire Bible through, and he started daily Bible readings.
He doesn’t know how many times he has read the Bible start to finish, “but I read it every morning except Wednesdays.”
Wednesday mornings are given to the men’s prayer breakfast that he helped start at McFarlin 50 years ago. It is an ecumenical meeting, “open to anyone, including women, although we seldom have women attend,” he said.
He left the Methodist church some years ago and now is a practicing Catholic along with his second wife, Patty.
He maintains his law practice and is in the office every day and intends to keep it that way, with respites of travel and participating with his horses and dogs in field trial competitions — a sport that he enjoys with a granddaughter in annual trips to North Dakota.