Mourning Gary Lanham, who exemplified friendship's magic

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The past year has been a time of separation from friends and family members we love. For the noblest of reasons – respect for the health of others – we have abandoned our customary social patterns and been isolated from regular, in-person contact with many of those about whom we care.

One of the consequences of that reaction to COVID-19 is we have not been present to offer comfort and consolation when friends and relatives have experienced failing health and the prospect of the end of life.

So it is that I share with you my regret over the loss of a dear friend, Gary Lanham, whose service was last Saturday in Hominy. Many of you will know exactly what I mean when I say there was no finer friend than Gary. He loved his family and community. He served in the military, served on the Osage County Election Board, worked for a while as Hominy’s city manager, assisted with the political campaigns of candidates in whom he believed, and sometimes made himself anxious thinking about the challenges that the county faces.

But there was much more to Gary than that. He frequently and happily befriended people whose views and desires were quite different from his own, and took an interest in helping them to make their lives better. This is the way in which I came to know him. We differed about politics, religion and other matters. We didn’t read the same books, watch the same shows or drink the same thing at the bar, but we enjoyed keeping company with one another and giving the issues of the day a good chewing.

Gary had battled cancer during the years immediately prior to his passing, early March 12 at a Tulsa hospital. He had also contracted and survived COVID-19. But a general decline in his health led to his departure from this life at the age of 67.

Osage County is poorer for the loss of him. Gary was a practitioner of putting aside petty differences to achieve greater goods. Regardless of social and economic status, race and ethnicity, religious belief or the lack thereof, Gary made it his business to try to discover what set of agreements, arrangements and policies would be most likely to lead to a positive outcome for his neighbors. He was a political conservative and a Christian, but he was the sort of fellow who could and did joke about differences of perspective, and he looked beyond differences for solutions.

I miss Gary. There are places in Hominy and Skiatook and Tulsa that will, for me, always be haunted by the memory of our good times there and our good-natured humor. Gary was a fervent believer in the value of open, honest, spirited dialogue, and I will always have his example in mind when I encounter people whose views differ from mine.

When Gary encountered people who were different, he sought them out and engaged them in a spirit of friendship. He bought them lunch and listened to them. He invited them out to the ranch for Thanksgiving dinner and entertained them. When he ran for office as a Republican, there were Democrats who came out to vote for him.

Without encouragement and a good word from Gary, I might well not be working for the Journal-Capital. He believed in the importance of good journalism and public awareness of important issues. He invested his energy in trying to make the corner of the planet he occupied a better place to live.

I do mourn and will mourn the loss of my friend, Gary. It saddened me not to be able to share a Guinness with him on St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m left with the appetite for a cold one to sip in silence and isolation, and say a prayer in his memory.