Jim Hamilton ‘dedicated public servant’ passes
In his eulogy to Sen. Jim Hamilton, former Sen. Kenneth Corn said Hamilton “met his moral test by dedicating his entire life to the service of others. He sought to meet the needs of the people even those he never met.”
That, according to many who knew Hamilton, was his legacy, using his “intellect, heart and soul into seeking solutions to problems that others rather not speak and others chose to ignore.”
Hamilton passed away Jan. 10 in Rogers, Ark., at the age of 83. He was formerly of Heavener. Like Corn, Hamilton served in both the Senate and House of Representatives. He followed in his father's (Clem Hamilton) footsteps. Clem Hamilton had served 17 years as a state senator.
Jim Hamilton served as President Pro Tempore and later served 14 years, eight as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, in the Oklahoma House. He and his father served a combined 40 years.
Hamilton was born in Howe and while in high school earned the Junior Master Farmer degree and served as state vice president of the Future Farmers of America. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, he earned his law degree at the University of Oklahoma and was admitted to the bar in 1960. He then served in the United States Army and Army Reserve, having finished first in his class of artillery training at Fort Sill. Hamilton practiced from his law office in Poteau for nearly 50 years.
While Hamilton was a state senator, the U.S. Job Corps training center south of Heavener closed. It had been operated by the U.S. Forest Service. He approached then Gov. Dewey Bartlett about using the buildings for a minimum security prison that would offer vo-tech training and educational opportunities for inmates. Congressman Carl Albert had agreed to work for transfer of the federal facility to the State of Oklahoma.
“I truly believe that Jim's most important legacy and accomplishment was the establishment of the Skills Center in the Department of Corrections Centers so that inmates could learn a skill and become productive citizens. Jim personally monitored enrollment in the programs and if it declined he wanted to know the reasons. The program was so important to Jim that his last visit to the Capitol just a few years ago, he sought to see the Pro-Temp of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and the Governor to urge the continuation of the program and its funding. Jim is the only person I know that has the type of respect of our leadership that he could arrive without an appointment and see all three in the same day,” Corn said.
During his tenure in the legislature, Hamilton authored legislation that created the Oklahoma Osteopathic College in Tulsa (now OSU Medical Center) and co-authored legislation establishing the Tulsa branch of the OU Medical School. He also wrote the constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget for state government with a 10 percent in reserve for emergencies (Rainy Day Fund).
“Jim Hamilton believed access to healthcare was important to the health and well-being of our families and communities. He saw it as a vital link to economic development as well as meeting the needs of our people in rural Oklahoma,” Corn said. “Jim believed he had an obligation to help everyone regardless of status or color of skin. He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Hispanic Coalition in our county (LeFlore). He sought to ensure they had opportunities to learn English, that their children had an education and that they could navigate the obstacles our society imposed. He did not view them as strangers or foreign invaders but rather as our neighbors and friends who could contribute much to our society.”
Corn, who had worked many times with Hamilton and followed his guidance, described Hamilton as a dedicated, honorable public servant.
Hamilton's funeral was held Sunday, Jan. 13, at the First Baptist Church in Heavener. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Nancy, of the home; one daughter, Melissa Todd and husband Mike of Tahlequah; one son, Dr. Lance Hamilton and wife Darla of Bentonville, Ark.; one sister, Jane Hamilton of Rogers, Ark; four grandchildren; and four great grandchildren; many other relatives and a host of many friends.