Good Citizens: Russell Perry and Vicki Miles belong in the Hall of Fame

OKLAHOMA CITY – When I left The Oklahoman editorial page in 2002, some local politicians – both liberal and conservative – hoped they’d seen the last of me. 

Russell Perry, publisher of The Black Chronicle and owner of the largest privately-held radio broadcasting company in the U.S., wanted me to stick around, and threw some “stringer” work my way. He was the soul of kindness to me and my family, helping me find a way forward, earning my daily bread doing what I love.

When I was but a child, the burly media titan quarterbacked the Douglass High School Trojans. He was their gridiron field general for an historic matchup with the Capitol Hill High Redskins in 1955, when the teams met for the first time in history.

The reason it was the first meeting ever between the two schools was that until that night, black high school teams never played white high school teams.

The competitors on both sides conducted themselves admirably. Capitol Hill won 13-6, and the state changed forever.

In one of life’s blessed moments, in 2008 I stood a few feet away from members of the two squads, taking pictures as the captains, including Perry, re-enacted the coin toss from that historic night in ’55.

I grew up in the inner city, so most of the black leaders I’ve known have been liberal Democrats. Russell is not only a fellow journalist, he is a conservative fellow, and a Republican. He served as Gov. Frank Keating’s Cabinet Secretary of Commerce.

Before and after his stint at the Capitol Complex, he guided an independent path for The Chronicle, especially in local races. His endorsements are never a given, and always coveted. 

Older and wiser, at critical moments these last few years, in moments of quiet consultation, he counseled me in the ways of patience, and impatience – and when one is preferable to the other.

Nearer my own age is Vicki Miles, who was one year ahead of me at Bishop McGuinness High. In the lead-up to the 1970 election, we had the first of many debates, but that one was in front of the student body.

I argued for Republican incumbent Gov. Dewey Bartlett. Vicki carried the ball for David Hall, the Democrat. Safe to say that the passion and intensity of that encounter was a hint of what would come after: a lifelong friendship, and not infrequent debates. (Hall went on to win the closest gubernatorial election in state history.)

She went to Girls State and was elected governor by the other high school girls from across Oklahoma. For the first time in history the sponsoring organization decided they would send the lieutenant governor (a white girl) instead of the governor (Vicki) to Girls Nation. The Oklahoma City Times editorialized to support her and her family.

At McGuinness, her friends were ready to storm the ramparts, but she asked us to stay calm.  She prayed a few days, then quietly accepted the sponsors’ decision. That was not what her friends expected, yet it cemented our affection for her.

I’ve long since forgotten the name of the play from which we did a “cutting” in theater class, but I certainly remember that it allowed me to kiss her.

After my return from the nation’s capital in 1990, as I took the reins of opinion pages at The Oklahoman, Vicki and I settled back into a customary pattern of “cussin’ and discussin’” matters of importance. 

She and my wife were in Bible Study together for a time, cementing a circle of affection. We watched our children grow up, and now we’re all grandparents.

When President Bill Clinton wanted to make Vicki (then having acquired the last name Miles-LaGrange) the U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City, I was a somewhat concerned editorial editor as I approached my venerable and ardently conservative publisher, Edward L. Gaylord. 

As I began to brief him — arguing we probably couldn’t expect anyone better as a Clinton appointee — Mr. Gaylord interrupted to ask, “Isn’t that Charles and Mary’s little girl?”

Mr. and Mrs. Miles were stalwart career educators in local public schools, and pillars of the northeast side community, traditional home of the black community. I answered it was indeed their daughter. 

He instructed me, “Then we have to help her. They are good citizens.”

She later became a federal district judge, a position she still holds.

Russell and Vicki have been in my hall of fame for a long time. These are good citizens. Thursday night in Oklahoma City, Russell and Vicki were among the 2013 inductees into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

These selections are certainly timely. Each reminds us that it is in caring communities that capable and compassionate people are fashioned, making our city, state and country better.

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