Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – At the Capitol this past week, a tree lighting, and memories of a public servant.
Governor Mary Fallin and Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister led schoolchildren from across the state at the annual Capitol Christmas tree lighting, held Tuesday (November 29).
The chief executive spoke briefly before lighting the tree at dusk on the south steps of the Capitol Building.
The Douglas fir replica has more than 2,500 energy-saving LED lights, according to a release from Fallin’s office.
The seat of state government was filled with the joyful noise of around 700 children, teachers and parents, decorating 26 Christmas trees. The first to fifth graders came from across the Sooner State.
“This is a very special time of the year to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends with the annual lighting of the Capitol’s Christmas tree and carolling,” Fallin said in a statement. “I appreciate the students who came from across the state to decorate the numerous Christmas trees on display.”
The two elected state officers walked around the building through the afternoon, talking with the children and their teachers.
In the fourth floor rotunda, a popular spot for youngsters to spend time was with fully-costumed performers, who shared classic fairy tales and other stories. The day coincided with a reception for new state legislators, held in the Capitol Blue Room on the second floor.
Many special guests were children who enjoyed reunions with siblings as part of Fallin’s “Oklahoma Fosters” initiative.
One group of youngsters and their chaperones asked questions of a reporter who joined them in a crowded Capitol elevator, their eyes shining as they heard stories of past tree lighting events at the historic building. They enjoyed decorating five of the trees and being part of the evening activities.
Patrick and Barb Yeary, an Oklahoma City couple, were part of the lighting event. They adopted two siblings this year, children who had previously been in the care of the state Department of Human Services.
Trees at the state Capitol Park grounds were not lit this year. Along with unlit trees at the governor’s mansion, that saved several thousand dollars, Fallin’s office said.
According to a press release, performing artist groups from mid-afternoon and into the evening included Mariachi Fillmore (Fillmore Elementary, Oklahoma City), the Enid Multicultural Choir, U.S. Grant Honors Guitar (U.S. Grant High School, Oklahoma City), JGI SuperNotes and the beloved Oklahoma Children’s Theatre Storytellers.
Also performing for visitors were the Edmond North High School Quartet, Manyawi World Music Ensemble, Monroe Elementary and Norman High School, the U.S. Grant High School Choir, Oklahoma City, Cherokee Songbirds from Cherokee Nation Immersion and Edmond Youth Chorus.
Decorations from these schools remain all around the rotunda area on the second, third and fourth floors: Orvis Risner Elementary, Edmond, Parkview Elementary, Mid-Del Schools, Millwood Elementary Learning Academy, and Hawthorne Elementary, Oklahoma City.
Also, Springer Elementary, Washington Grade Center, Ada, Pioneer Elementary, Noble, Stratford Elementary, Roy Clark Elementary, Union, Wellston Elementary, Bokoshe Elementary, Cedar Heights Elementary, Woodward, Lake Park Elementary, Putnam City, and Mill Creek Elementary.
Rounding out the large group of decorators were students from Balko Elementary, Edison Elementary (Bristow), Cherokee Nation Immersion, Southwest Elementary (Clinton), Washington Irving Elementary (Durant), Gore Lower Elementary, Locust Grove Upper Elementary, Central Intermediate (Wagoner), Strother Elementary, Barnes Elementary (Owasso), Mason Elementary and Marietta Primary Elementary.
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Monday (November 28), the fourth floor rotunda area was packed with friends, family, colleagues and admirers of former Attorney General Larry Derryberry, who died November 19.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol Honor Guard presented the state colors before Robert L. Wise called the throng to worship at the Memorial Service. Readings from Scripture came form Isaiah chapter 61, and the Gospel of John Chapter 11.
Memorial tributes were offered by Andrew M. Coats and Dara Derryberry, daughter of Larry and his wife of 53 years, Gale Brazil Derryberry.
Mourners were a who’s who of state government and law, past and present. Talking quietly about Derryberry’s career were two of his successors, Robert Henry and Mike Turpen. The eyes of the affable pair glistened as they spoke of their friend with a reporter after the ceremony.
A larger than life photograph of Derryberry in his prime was placed, amidst a sea of flowers, in one of the niches undergoing repair in the rotunda area. Attendees walked past it, on their way to greet Derryberry’s family.
The son of tenant cotton farmers, Larry was born in the waning days of the Great Depression, on Land Run Day (April 22, 1939). He rose from his rank as salutatorian at Altus High School to notable heights, garnering his B.A. in history and juris doctorate at the University of Oklahoma.
He married Gale, and from their union came son Darren and daughter Dara. (The alliteration of “Ds” was one of his humorous habits, one which proved deft-for-voter-memory.)
While still a young man (and still in law school) he was elected to the Legislature in the 1960s. In that capacity, he served Jackson County and the state for eight years, rising to the Speaker Pro Temp’s post. Derryberry fashioned the state’s ethics commission (with the support of curmudgeonly conservative editorial writers at the state’s largest newspaper).
In 1970, he was elected attorney general, serving for two terms.
In the midst of public service, fatherhood and friendship, he became a prolific writer, poet and composer of fine songs, including a missive for children, “The Oklahoma Scranimal.”
More could be written of his legal career after 1979, and was in his widely circulated obituary of recent days. Some years, ago, he state’s most productive biographer, Bob Burke, penned “Courage Counts,” allowing recovery of the details for his admirers.
Derryberry was a friend to all, and had a way of endearing himself even to sometime-critics. That handshake, firm and certain at every encounter, was as self-evident a sign of character as his deep love for his family.
When twin grandchildren were born, Larry distributed not cigars, but “Twins” candy bars. The back of the wrappers announced the arrival of “two new products” on November 1, 1998 – Andrew at 19 inches, five pounds and ten ounces. For Andrew, the “baking” process, Larry’s hand-writing recorded, was completed at 12:03 that day. Olivia entered the world at 20 inches, five pounds and six ounches, with cooking completed at 1:01.
The 11-pound-plus pair were “manufactured by Darren & Cindy” – a subsidiary of DeWayne & LeVeta Thomas, and of course Larry and Gale. Final inspector for the event was “Sissy.” Wrappers from those sweet gifts remain in possession of this writer’s family.
Derryberry had a seemingly naturally and unfeigned kindness fully in his possession, a gift not always in possession of successful politicians.
He befriended the late Brenda Reneau after she became the first woman (and first Republican) elected as Commissioner of Labor in 1994. He visited her often, seeking no special favors for clients or friends, yet always communicating his understanding of the burdens that come with ethical public service.
The wise old Democrat even offered consistent practical support to the Republican incumbent, asking nothing in return but good stewardship. She once reflected that she valued Derryberry’s “friendship and advice, more than his campaign contributions.”
When Derryberry died, Gov. Fallin observed he was “an extraordinarily kind and intelligent man, who dedicated his life to the people of Oklahoma. His death is a huge loss.” Extending condolences to the family, Fallin gave thanks “for his hard work over the years on behalf of all Oklahomans.”
Remembering his predecessor at the start of Thanksgiving week, Attorney General Scott Pruitt reflected on “his unwavering dedication to our state and … gratitude for his service. My thoughts and prayers are with the Derryberry family."
More than an hour after the Nov. 28 ceremony ended, members of the family continued speaking with friends in the rotunda area. By then, the building – so full of conversation and conviviality immediately after the end of the farewell to Derryberry -- was so quiet that tender words exchanged among family and friends could be heard from the fifth floor balcony.
The air was cool and the weather beautiful, as the Derryberrys and their observers departed.
Leaving the Capitol and returning to routine, the memories were fresh and fulsome – of a capable, hard-knuckled and tender-hearted man who served his home state with dignity and honor, every day of his life. He lived without fear, and without regrets. That sentence might capture his noblest achievement.