Henry Louis Bellmon, 88, who in 1963 became Oklahoma’s first GOP governor since statehood and is known as the father of the state’s modern Republican party, died Tuesday at St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital in Enid, Okla.
He had Parkinson’s disease, said Andrew Tevington, Bellmon’s former chief of staff and general counsel.
A two-term U.S. senator, Bellmon served two nonconsecutive terms as governor, one that began in 1963 and one that started in 1987.
As the state’s first GOP governor, he was credited with making the party a viable force in state politics.
In 1967, Bellmon served as national chairman of the Nixon for President campaign. Bellmon won election to the U.S. Senate in 1968 and again in 1974.
During his first term as a U.S. senator, Bellmon supported a federal court order that called for crosstown busing to achieve racial balance in Oklahoma City public schools. Many state newspapers criticized him for his stance.
At the end of his second term as governor, Bellmon saw passage of the Education Reform and Funding Act of 1990. The legislation called for an increase in funding for public schools by 27%, as well as smaller class sizes, compulsory kindergarten and teacher incentive pay.
Bellmon was born Sept. 3, 1921, on a farm near Tonkawa, Okla. He attended Oklahoma A&M; College, which became Oklahoma State University, and earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 1942.
He served in the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946, receiving the Silver Star for action on Saipan and the Legion of Merit for action on Iwo Jima.