Former Gov. George Nigh to Speak During Forum at Northwestern Feb. 20

February 15, 2023

George Nigh
Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society

The Northwestern Oklahoma State University Social Sciences Department and Institute for Citizenship Studies will play host to former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh for a lecture on the Alva campus Feb. 20.

The forum, which takes place on President’s Day, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Student Center Ranger Room. The event is free and open to the public.

Nigh served more terms as governor than anyone in Oklahoma history. He will give a speech to Northwestern students, employees and community members about the difference between being a politician and a public servant. He’ll also take questions from the audience and give a special commencement speech to the university’s political science majors.

Nigh, 95, was dubbed “Oklahoma’s road-building-est governor” in part because of his initiative to improve roughly 340 miles of State Highway 3 from Oklahoma City to the Colorado state line near Boise City.

The highway is one of the busiest in northwest Oklahoma, and at the time, it was the longest highway reconstruction project ever undertaken by a U.S. governor. Part of the highway in the Panhandle is named in his honor.

“One of my biggest, greatest memories of northwest Oklahoma is the expressway, the Northwest Passage,” Nigh said. “Public service is for every area of the state, and that’s why I said we need highway improvements in every area, every year, in the state. I want people to know who are elected to office as public servants that Oklahoma consists of 77 counties, and all of them deserve attention by the state.

“Politics was me promising to build the roads. Public service was me actually building them.”

George Nigh
Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society

Nigh served as Oklahoma’s governor four times. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1958, and he served as governor for nine days in January 1963 after then-governor J. Howard Edmondson filled a vacant U.S. Senate seat, according to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.

Nigh was elected lieutenant governor again in 1966, and he won the governor’s race in 1978. However, before his gubernatorial term began, then-Gov. David Boren left his office five days early to become a U.S. Senator, according to the encyclopedia. Nigh completed Boren’s term, which was technically Nigh’s second stint as governor.

When he was sworn in just days later because he won the previous year’s gubernatorial election, he was governor for a third term. He was reelected as governor in 1982, his fourth term.

His political career began much earlier, however. Nigh was a student at East Central State College in Ada when he filed to run for a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. At age 23 in 1950, he became the youngest member of the state Legislature. He authored the bill that made “Oklahoma!” the state song.

Nigh also was the youngest lieutenant governor in the nation when he was first elected in 1958.

Nigh said he hopes young Oklahomans will get involved in government.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a public servant,” Nigh said. “In ninth grade at McAlester High School, we had a class called vocations, and you wrote down what you wanted to be when you grew up. … I wrote down ‘governor.’ And the teacher said, ‘I don’t know if we can study that or not. No one has ever written that down before.’”

The forum won’t be Nigh’s first time at Northwestern. He visited the university more than a decade ago and met with Dr. Eric Schmaltz, professor of history, and Dr. Aaron Mason, professor of political science, who are helping host the Feb. 20 forum.

“The Social Sciences Department and Institute for Citizenship Studies appreciate that Gov. Nigh remembers our first meeting at Northwestern back in the spring of 2011 at an awards event sponsored by the University Foundation,” Schmaltz said. “We met on the occasion of Dr. Mason receiving the first Donovan Reichenberger Fundraising Award. We are so pleased to invite Gov. Nigh back to Northwestern.”


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