Remembering Frosty Troy

OKLAHOMA CITY – Beginning around two decades ago, for a few years running, the names of two Oklahoma journalists and their respective (and saintly) wives began to appear in the annual list of supporters for the Benedictine Sisters, who were seeking means to support their Red Plains Monastery in Piedmont, Oklahoma.

The list included “Helen & Frosty Troy” and, a little further down the list: “Pam & Pat McGuigan.”

I was chief editorial writer, and then ran the editorial page, at The Daily Oklahoman; Frosty was publisher of The Oklahoma Observer, the independent progressive (we called it liberal in those days) newspaper. Frosty regularly designated the newspaper owned by Edward L. Gaylord “The Daily Disappointment.” Frosty knew, but some of his readers did not, that is the nickname critics give to dominant dailies all over the nation.

Of note, however, Frosty regularly encouraged his readers, and those passionate admirers at auditoriums where he spoke in every corner of the Sooner State, to subscribe and support their local newspaper. He could not imagine a world where daily journalism not a reality.

Long years after those days we wound up on the same donors’ list, we would laugh about the shock it gave mutual friends (and mutual enemies) to see our names affiliated with the holy sisters. But, by then, we knew there was a lot more in common than we had once believed.

Beginning in the first decade of this century, after I located a news operation at the state Capitol, our desks were separated by just a couple of feet in the fourth floor press room. Sometimes, we were the early birds. He would bring a cup of coffee up from the basement cafe (“the best sandwiches in Oklahoma City,” he said, rather generously) to his desk. I’d walk in with my cup from home.

For minutes, and sometimes longer, we’d talk. It was usually about our children. I learned how much he loved his daughter Marti, then serving overseas. He knew to the minute the time of her next scheduled trip home.

It was in the those early-bird conversations that the final walls between us, as men, fell. Not all at once like the walls of Jericho, but slowly, the dawning recognition of kindred souls.

In 2010, we were among the dozen or so reporters in the governor’s meeting room at the Capitol when University of Oklahoma President David Boren decried the collapse of historical awareness and of “civic education” in the nation, and in our state.

On CapitolBeatOK and in broadcast interviews, and subsequently in the weekly predecessor to The City Sentinel, Boren’s points were reviewed. In his speech, Boren characterized the situation then (and it is worse today) as a “citizenship crisis.” He was doing what he could to remedy the situation, including events drawing hundreds of elementary-age children to the seat of state government.

A few days later, unprompted, Frosty commented, “You, OETA and I did the best job covering what Boren had to say.”

Some months later, at the end of the state legislative session, only a few regulars were in the Senate press gallery as Todd Lamb of Edmond, who had announced plans to run for lieutenant governor, presided over his last session in the upper chamber. Frosty told the Capitol corps, and granted permission to be quoted, “Todd Lamb is the best floor leader since Ted Fisher. He gave everyone a chance to have their say.” That moment equating a young conservative with a venerable old liberal was more characteristic of the “firebrand” liberal than many would suspect.

Frosty rarely passed up a chance to have his say. Back in the day, he said some pretty dreadful things about yours truly, and about others for whom I cared.

About the only person to whom he would concede a point was his beloved wife, known to admirers as Helen of Troy. Before I worked from a desk near Frosty’s, I worked at the Oklahoma Department of Labor for four years, first as a media specialist and then as Deputy to Commissioner of Labor Brenda Reneau. (The agency was then located in the building that is now the Oklahoma City office of the Chickasaw Nation, on Lincoln Boulevard.)

Reneau was accustomed, when arthritic joints permitted, to walking her beloved dog, “Cookie” in the neighborhood around the agency. One day before I became her employee, Reneau encountered an older lady, who was also strolling. The fourth or fifth time they encountered each other, the other lady said, “I’m Helen Troy.” To which Brenda replied, “I know who you are” – and Frosty’s wife knew who Reneau was.

They went from cordiality to respect. And, from that kindess came the remarkable ties between the “diminutive” Troy and the even-more diminutive Reneau.

To be sure, he never relented on the issue of Right-to-Work, which had been Reneau’s signature theme in her first campaign for office. Voters had agreed with her in a 2001 statewide referendum, and Troy remained a staunch ally for organized labor. He also came to admire the agency’s work on workplace safety, and often leavened his “darts” in the Observer with “laurels” for Reneau, and the staff.

Helen died in 2007. Thereafter, discussing their years together, Frosty sometimes referred to Helen in the present tense.

As for me and Frosty, we explored points of common reference that had little to do with politics, and quite a bit to do with our shared roots in Roman Catholicism.

My wife and I attended a “Frosty Fest” fundraiser in her home town of Tulsa. Despite differences, I believe that all of us ink-stained wretches (a term of affection for newspaper people) should stick together whenever possible.

Eventually, he did not come to the press room any more. The legislative staff hauled off his big old desk. Arnold Hamilton – Frosty’s successor at The Observer, who bought the paper in 2006 – got the spot. His desk is adjacent to my space. We have joked about the times we are equally critical of this or that aspect of state governance – although, to be sure, we disagree quite often.

For a time, Arnold let a young reporter hang out there. She reported on the state’s troubled death penalty process. I shared Frosty stories, and even advised her on issues touching the Corrections Department. She went on to a full-time job out of state, carrying a bit of Troy toughness, and maybe even some McGuigan inquisitiveness, with her.

And now-a-days, I agree with critics of the death penalty. It’s funny, and instructive, how the wheel turns.

Once of my last conversations of any length with Frosty came in March 2011, when former Senate President Pro Temp Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, was indicted for bribery. I was shocked, believing there had to be a mistake. Morgan had been unfailingly courteous and responsive in every situation in which I dealt with him. I had no clue about anything vaguely resembling the charge against him.

Frosty and I walked the fourth floor halls together soon after the news about Morgan broke. I asked him what he thought. His voice full of sadness, Troy reflected, “I don’t know if he’s guilty. But the whole situation may simply be the last echo of the negative side of old days, and of the Stipe era.” The latter referenced a “Little Dixie” Democrat, Sen. Gene Stipe, champion for the Democratic Party base and the longest serving legislator in state history — but also the man nicknamed “The Prince of Darkness.”

Frosty’s real first name was Forrest, and almost no one knew that. After he stopped coming to the Capitol, members of the House and Senate staff would stop by the press room to ask if I knew how he was doing. I told them what I knew through friends. Frosty moved into a home for those afflicted with memory loss. For awhile, he and the legendary Paul English — each of them scourges of politicians in both parties — were roommates. That seemed appropriate, somehow.

Like my parents of blessed memory, Frosty made the prayer list in the weekly bulletin at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He was still on the list distributed last Sunday.

This week, came the news that he had died.

The wake service for Frosty Wake is 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (3214 N. Lake Ave. in Oklahoma City). The Mass will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, also at the Cathedral. Graveside services in McAlester are pending.

According to his obituary, published in The Oklahoman on Sunday (January 22), “Survivors include daughter, Marti, of Oklahoma City; son, Philip, and daughter-in-law, Jolline, of Wellston; brother, Dr. Jerry Troy and his wife Neva, of Edmond; sister, Mary Ruth Troy Menegay and her husband, Larry, of Harlingen, TX; sister-in-law, Hazel (Nix) Hoornstra and husband Chris, of Tulsa; niece, Cynthia Troy-Ury, of McAlester; and numerous nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial donations be made to the Oklahoma Observer Democracy Foundation, P.O. Box 14275, Oklahoma City, 73113.”

Some people hated Frosty. Once upon a time, I guess I did.

But I came to love him. Those are the right words. The guy who had denounced many of my writings and policy preferences – and the reporter who gave you-know-what to every governor in my lifetime – emerged, in the actual knowing, as a man much like myself. One target of his barbs, Gov. Mary Fallin, issued a statement after news of his passing circulated in the building where he had worked:

Frosty Troy was a diligent journalist who covered the state Capitol for nearly 40 years, reporting on governors, lawmakers and state officials. I first met him 26 years ago as a young legislator. My thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.”

Frosty was in love with Oklahoma and in love with words. He possessed a healthy combination of optimism and pessimism.

He was a journalist, and he was born in 1933.

May God grant him the generous reception I hope will one day be mine. In that day, we will cuss and discuss it all again, for Eternity.