OKLAHOMA'S HEALTHY HERITAGE
This 1910 photograph shows construction of University Hospital. The structure, built at a cost of
about $300,000, was completed in 1919 and, in Jaler years, was railed "Old Main." The original
seclion was finally demolished Jan. 14, 1981, as part of a renovation of the hospital, now caJJed
Oklahoma Memorial Hospital.
Friend, in deed
Eighth in a series honoring
Oklahoma's Diamond Jubilee
By Karen Klinka
The building of any large institution involves the efforts of many persons, the coordination — or resolution — of the visions
held by the various participants and a great
amount of plain, hard work.
And, sometimes, despite prodigious effort, progress seems to come at an amazingly slow, or haphazard, pace.
But, occasionally, people come along
who, by personal virtue, temperament or
sheer impatience, can manage to propel a
project forward or speedily bring about
Such people could be called
And medical education at the University
was shaped through the efforts of several
One of the most powerful "expediters"
in the early years of the OU College of
Medicine was Robert Lee Williams, the
third governor of the state of Oklahoma.
Born in Alabama, Williams tried several
careers, including serving as a Methodist
minister and schoolteacher, before settling
on a career in law.
Williams was active in Oklahoma since
early statehood in 1906, serving as a
delegate — like his political rival from
Tishomingo, William Murray -
He was elected governor in 1914 and
soon was known as being "a stickler for the
loftiest ethical standards. ' High-minded
and intelligent, Williams resolved to improve Oklahoma's system of higher education — particularly the University of Oklahoma and its infant School of Medicine.
Early on, he decided that LeRoy Long, a
physician he became acquainted with in
McAlester, was the man to shape and improve the medical school. Despite Long s
reluctance to take such a post, Williams
persevered in his plans. Williams also
communicated his desire to have Long
become the school s new dean to the University's board. The board listened to William's views but reminded the governor
that the school already had a competent
dean in Curtis R. Day.
But Williams was not to be denied. In
the spring of 1915, he informed the board
that either they secure Curtis' resignation
and appoint Long as medical school dean,
or he would veto the University's entire appropriation. The board quickly got the
message and appointed Long as dean of
the medical school on May 15.
After Long began his tenure as dean, he
and Williams both realized that a new
teaching hospital was needed if
Oklahoma's medical school was ever to receive an "A" rating. The school's clinical
facilities were located at the old Rolater
Hospital. Once again, Williams swung into action and, in 1917, proposed that a
$200,000 appropriation be earmarked for a
university hospital. Although there was
support for a teaching hospital by a great
number of the state's physicians, a powerful contingent — led by Dr. J.B. Rolater,
who was concerned about the loss of the
lease of his hospital — opposed the idea.
Rolater and a group of supporters blocked
the proposal for the new hospital in the
However, Long, the articulate Williams
and a number of backers arranged for the
Senate to reconsider the measure. Dr.
Long and other supporters made impassioned pleas which won them a number of
votes in the legislative body.
However, to ensure passage, the resourceful Williams threatened again to
wield his gubernatorial veto on ail college
appropriations unless the hospital Dill passed. In fact, Williams actually did veto a
proposal to spend money for a dome on the
state Capitol building, which was slated to
cost the same as the new hospital.
According to Dr. Mark Everett's book,
"Medical Education in Oklahoma,
Williams reportedly said Oklahoma needed a hospital "worse than it needed a
dome for people to look at.'
Williams' threat expedited the bill s
passage and OU got its teaching hospital.
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