J. Leland Gourley, 94, of Oklahoma City, OK, died on October 19, 2013, of heart failure.
Newspaper publisher, politician and banker, Gourley's colorful career spanned almost seven decades. Gourley played key roles in the repeal of prohibition, creation of state civil service, and he helped start the state competitive procurement system. He was behind the building of the Cox Convention Center, the Lake Hefner Parkway, OU's continuing education center, two state capitol office buildings, cable barriers on Hefner Parkway and Oklahoma City MAPS projects.
As a journalist, he exposed the 1956 Wagoner vote scandal, published three state newspapers, and was mentor to some of the most important names in Oklahoma journalism. He co-founded a bank and later a weekly newspaper, OKC FRIDAY, where he went to the office every day until his death.
Orphaned at 13 and raised by relatives in Missouri, he returned alone and on his own to his native Oklahoma at 18 to attend the University of Oklahoma. Later as a soldier, he fought in the 3rd Army's liberation of Europe. He directed the 20th Corps Artillery Group's 20,000-round barrage that began the successful Allied assault on the 11th SSPanzer Division and the capture of Trier
On his return from war in 1946, he bought the Henryetta Daily Freelance, becoming the youngest daily newspaper publisher in the state. When he died, he was the oldest.
The "prairie fire" sparked by a Gourley editorial swept a little known Tulsa prosecutor into the governor's mansion and drew Gourley into state government with him. J. Howard Edmondson was inaugurated in 1959 with Gourley as chief of staff. The energy and charisma behind the changes that followed were from Edmondson, and the legislation was engineered and managed by Gourley and the "crew cuts" under him
Gourley personally supervised the campaign that repealed prohibition, after helping persuade the Legislature, in the first three months of the administration, to call the statewide election. Besides throttling widespread public corruption, new revenue from legalized liquor sales enabled the biggest school teacher raises in history until then.
During that time, Gourley also was a board member of the Capitol Improvements Authority, which built the first two state office buildings on Lincoln Blvd., funded by revenue bonds, without appropriations. He also successfully led a quest for financing that ended with construction of the Kellogg Continuing Education Center at OU.
Joe Cannon, another leader in the Edmondson administration, once said "Leland always got things done by giving someone else the credit."
After the Edmondson years, he cofounded and ran State Capitol Bank on Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City, which the American Banker listed as one of the "fasted growing small banks in America."
He also chaired the 1964 bond election to finance the Myriad (now Cox) center, which became the cornerstone of the City's convention trade, according to those in the industry. He also served on President Kennedy's Area Redevelopment Administration that provided federal funds for two state resorts on Lake Eufaula, where chronic unemployment topped 23 percent.
In 1966, he ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on a school improvement platform. He lost the election but not his commitment to education. In 1974, he founded the OKC FRIDAY newspaper where he worked daily until his death. Over the years, OKC FRIDAY became Gourley's bully pulpit for several causes, most notably economic development and public education
He served as a board member of the Greater OKC Chamber in 35 of the last 40 years. There, he made the original proposal to group a number of capital projects under one umbrella, that later became OCMAPS (MAPS-1). Then he served on the steering committee for the winning campaign. During his year as president of the Oklahoma City Rotary Club 29, the club raised and donated $250,000 for Rotary International's worldwide anti-polio program. His presidential project raised $35,000 and built a new computer lab for the Community Literacy Centers, Inc.'s adult reading program in Oklahoma City.
And Gourley's newspapers are famous for journalistic excellence. The Henryetta Free-Lance was judged best small daily in the state 13 times in one 25-year span. No newspaper in Oklahoma history has achieved such a record. Except one. Gourley has exceeded his own record with the same top honor among large weeklies with OKC FRIDAY. His editorials and columns have generated public demand for legislative reform, economic development, education reform and most recently played a critical role in the passage of MAPS 3. From Time magazine (while in Henryetta) to The Oklahoman, he was quoted and his words frequently reprinted.
Among his many awards and honors are the Oklahoma Press Association Milt Phillips Award (highest OPA honor possible), Oklahoma Press Association "Beachy Musselman Award" for distinguished newspaper service, Governor's Arts Award for Media, Oklahoma City Rotary Club "Lifetime Achievement Award," Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City University Servant Leader Award and The University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism "Distinguished Alumni Award".
Gourley is survived by his wife of 36 years and co-publisher, Vicki Clark Gourley, and a blended family of three sons and a daughter, Jay Gourley, Janna and Herb Rousey, Stacy and Brandon Clark, Jennifer and Kelly Clark; Granddaughters, Myra and Peter Robinson, Suzy and Kylan Shirley, Capt. Maxine and Capt. Nate Drake (US Army), Tracey Klein, Kelley Wright, Holley Frazer-Gillis, Megan Chancellor, Mia Easton; Grandsons Graham and Gavin Clark and Parker Easton; Great grandchildren, Katie Villanueva, Maddie Klein, Josh and Allison Williams, Penny and Rachel Robinson and great great grandchildren Josie and Emma Villanueva.
A Memorial Service will be held Friday, Oct. 25, at 2pm, at Crossing Community Church, 14600 N. Portland Ave., Oklahoma City, OK.
Memorials may be sent to the Leland Gourley Memorial Scholarship in Business, OCU in care of the Development Office, 2501 N. Blackwelder, OKC 73106