Living in the same corner of the earth has its advantages. Navigating the streets becomes easier all the time. There are few strangers in the grocery store or at the cafe. The downside is you know or know of most of the people who pass away. We've lost some great pieces of local history in the past few weeks. All were friends and were always helpful in my journalistic world.
Betty McElderry was the ultimate host for the OU students who attended the Democratic National Conventions under my watch. We met at a state party meeting my editor had sent me to cover. My knowledge of state politics was limited and she did her best to make me feel welcome.
She did the same for my students when they covered national political conventions in 1988 in Atlanta and in New York City in 1992. The journalists were reporting for state newspapers and were treated like professionals. Betty included them in all of the state delegation's events. She was a former teacher and was a huge supporter of Girls State.
Born in Norman, she made her home in Purcell with her husband, Neil William "Bill" McElderry, Jr., and sons Neil III and Mike. She died in late July. Her death at age 80 was front page news in the Purcell Register. Fewer people were as well known in Purcell.
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By the time I met Don Symcox he had probably forgotten more of Norman's history than I will ever know. He and his wife, Mary Louise, were two of my "go-to" people for questions on the who and where of Norman. He came to Norman from Cordell to attend OU in 1948. Except for his Navy service after World War II he never lived anywhere else.
He was a banker for 65 years and worked every day until he went to the hospital. He died this past month at age 89.
Don began as a teller and became the bank's president in 1992. He could tell you nearly every store that opened or closed on Main Street. Once we had an obscure photo of civic leaders touring the Naval Air Station. Even though he didn't live here at the time he knew the names and families of every one of them.
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Roy Hamilton was another of my trusted sources on Norman's history. He was one of Norman's final connections to James "Jim" Bumgarner, known to the rest of the world as actor James Garner. They both attended Wilson Elementary School where Roy wrote the school's fight song.
The James Garner plaza on Main Street would never have happened without Roy's tenacity. He worked with two other childhood friends, Bob Goins and Jim Cobb, to design and construct the bronze statue that now stands across from the Sooner Theatre downtown. Later, he helped push along the Cleveland County Veteran's Memorial at Reaves Park.
Like me, Roy always wanted his neighbors to know as much as they could about their community. He was the first to call when James Garner was in town or to let me know about something happening to the beloved actor. He died Aug. 15 at age 89.
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On a personal note, my last uncle died last month in Colorado at age 86. My mother's younger brother, Tom Stafford, was born in Oklahoma in the middle of the Depression. He became a Catholic priest for a dozen years and was a volunteer at the Oklahoma diocese's mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala in the early 1960s. It was the mission where Fr. Stanley Rother was murdered years later.
In my young world, Uncle Tom was the "cool" uncle. He could fix nearly anything and was always curious about how things worked. He built a home computer from a kit, was a ham radio operator and taught young men deep sea diving.
Our Christmas and birthday gifts from him were always the best. One year, he made us a giant trampoline out of webbing and an inner tube from a mining truck. Another time, he brought me a hand-made marimba from Guatemala. But nothing will top the real, three-foot Guatemalan machetes he delivered to his many nephews one year.
With the knives in leather sheaths, we walked the neighborhood in search of wayward weeds who dared to get in our way.