Oklahoma Christian University paid tribute to three former Oklahoma governors and first ladies at a gala Thursday.
The college held its 10th annual Associates Dinner on Thursday evening at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. During the event, the college presented the Lee Allan Smith Spirit of Oklahoma Award to Brad and Kim Henry, George and Donna Nigh and Frank and Cathy Keating.
The university created the award last year to recognize people who have devoted their careers to the betterment of Oklahoma. At last year’s dinner, OC presented the award to former Oklahoma City mayors Ron Norick and Kirk Humphreys and current Mayor Mick Cornett.
During the event, current Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she and the three former governors and their wives share a special bond, in that they understand the pressures that go along with running a state government.
Donna Nigh characterized the couple’s years in the Governor’s Mansion as “splendid misery” - a life with advantages and pressures very few people have the opportunity to experience, she said. “I can truthfully say with all honesty that I loved every minute of it,” she said. A major theme of discussion was the connections among the four governors and their spouses.
George Nigh said he was reminded of the fact that the Henrys had worked in his office during his administration - Brad Henry as an intern and his wife, Kim, as a secretary.
Fallin said she had been impressed by the leadership of Frank Keating and Brad Henry while she served as lieutenant governor during their administrations.
She remembered especially how Keating became the face of Oklahoma on an international stage following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.
“I got to learn from the best,” she said.
Brad Henry also praised the two other former governors, saying Nigh had served as a profound influence on his political career.
While Henry was serving as an intern in his office in 1981, Nigh sent him to represent Oklahoma in a Flag Day celebration in Baltimore, he said, which proved to be one of the earliest experiences in a political career that landed him in the Governor’s Mansion.
The four governors also praised the university and outgoing President Mike O’Neal, who is retiring from his post this summer.
The university announced in February that John deSteiguer, OC’s senior vice president for advancement, would become the school’s new president.
Brad Henry lauded O’Neal’s development of OC’s Rwanda Initiative, a partnership that brought Rwandan President Paul Kagame to Oklahoma in 2006.
“Thank you for bringing the world, frankly, to Oklahoma,” Henry said.