Costello then, and Costello now

OKLAHOMA CITY – Three years ago this past week, Mark Costello was out-of-state with his wife Cathy, helping their daughter prepare to move into a college dorm. Mark and I talked over the cell phone once while he was away on that trip, and traded some phone messages. 

Most of our prior exchanges that summer – both in person and over the phone — were focused on early contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, but that last set of calls touched upon news about the Oklahoma Department of Labor, which he ran so well for more than four years.

After he was killed on August 23, 2015, I never had the inclination to delete his final two voice messages on my old iPhone 4. In those cherished messages, which I listened to from time to time, he updated me on the move-in process, and his exchanges with one of the tidal wave of GOP contenders for the presidency. He promised (as I did in responses) to have a face-to face soon.

Life has ironies, and the joys of pleasure, unexpected. 
When Costello ran for the state labor commissioner’s job in 2010, I supported his primary opponent, a young man named Jason Reese, who was and is a friend. After he defeated my pal in the GOP primary, Mark’s ability and policy views impressed me more and more. Before long, both Reese and I were Costello fans. 

Mark and I steadily became fast friends, discovering a shared love of Jameson Whiskey (, among other things. To be sure, we were both more conservative than not – in matters large and small — although life and appreciation for good ideas leavened that, a wee bit, over time.

Mark and I also felt unusually blessed by the respective ladies we married. He often said he had “married above my station” in finding a companion for life. In both his case and in mine, good women were central to our successes as workers, our endeavors as fathers and as friends. 
Cathy, he said, was in most things his first and most important adviser – the person he considered most crucial to his professional business successes and his personal familial duties. 

Let me be a witness: In recent days, I have been amazed about assertions that Mrs. Costello had little to do with the success Mr. Costello had as an entrepreneur. He would be amazed to hear or see such direct challenges to the truth. Spending good money on bad attack ads should end. Those distorting this lady’s record should stand down. 
In our face-to-face exchanges, often I shared with Mark stories about a habit picked up from a favorite college professor, a widely-published historian. He always had his wife read the initial drafts of his books. My wife has done the same for me. Costello had the same sort of high regard for his spouse.

Before long after his 2010 election victory, Mark and Cathy became regulars at the annual local roast of politicians, The Oklahoma City Gridiron. Time performing on stage was a good habit of mine for 25 years, until the parody’s unfortunate demise. Journalists wrote and performed the show, and the Costellos laughed loudest of all at our jokes. And here’s another thing: Mark had an instinctive understanding of the essential role of journalistic freedom in our country. He advertised consistently in the “elected officials” sections of newspapers. He was accessible and candid with reporters. 

I learned in those years that Cathy sings like an angel, and had taught in Texas. She and I had and have the teaching time in common. Aside from family, we always had plenty to discuss over a drink at those Gridiron encounters. 

Frequently, my personal time with Mark was centered in a comfortable round booth at my favorite watering hole, Will’s Lobby Bar on North Western Avenue in Oklahoma City. I introduced him to a favorite mixed drink there, the Sidecar. He liked it fine, but considered it too sweet. He usually stuck with wine or a sip of Jameson. 
At Will’s, I also acquainted him with the exquisite Manchego Sandwich, a mixture of an acclaimed Spanish cheese (from the La Mancha region) with a variety of seafood. 
As his first term in office advanced, we would from time to time exchange messages wondering “Is it time for Manchego?” 
Or, alternatively, “Time for Will’s, and a bit of ‘the creature’?” The latter was and is tribute to the way Barry Fitzgerald, portraying an aging Catholic priest, referenced Irish Whiskey in a film he did with Bing Crosby.
Some months before his death, I learned from Mark that the Costellos had begun to visit Will’s at the end of long work days. 

In 2015, the day after we lost him so shockingly, I wrote a news story with comments from a variety of Oklahomans. It was titled “True North” (as leaders of a state “think tank” referenced Mark’s fidelity to principle) and referenced his ability to work with others of diverse views without surrendering integrity (

Some days after his death, a sunset tribute was held for Mark at the state Capitol. It was a night like this past Saturday night. As temperatures cooled and light faded in the western sky, the most eloquent speech came from the House Democratic leader. He listed reasons he had come to respect Mark so deeply. He ended with a quotation from St. Paul, saying he knew where Costello was that night. That was the speech that made me cry.

Asked to give some words, I had a written outline. There was too much to say, so I kept it short. I spoke for a few minutes, then closed with a song I was certain Mark knew. It was a Gregorian Chant, a song I learned as a boy in the Latin choir at my home church here in Oklahoma City. The melody is beautiful, and these are the words:

“Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.”

After singing, I proclaimed the English translation — words Mark believed, and that I believe:
“We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, for by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.”

Sometimes, as with only a few others who I believe have gone to Heaven, I sense he is kneeling at the Throne of Grace, praying for me. This gives me peace. I need such prayers to navigate the rocky shoals of life in contemporary America – not to mention collapse of the business model for my chosen profession of gathering news and information.
I miss Mark Costello, I respect his model, and I trust everything he told me.