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Governor Emeritus Overton James
Jul 21, 1925 - Sep 16, 2015
Posted by Jo Aguirre

Criswell Funeral Home, Ada

Ada- Services for Governor Emeritus Overton James, 90, of Ada are 2:00 P.M. Monday at the Chickasaw Community Center.

Overton James was born July 21, 1925, in Bromide, Oklahoma to Rufus and Vinnie May (Seely) James. He passed peacefully from this life to the next on September 16, 2015, with his daughter, Ranell; granddaughter, Dedra; neice, Dede; and friend, Dr. Tina at his side, an example of strength and courage to the end.

In 1947, Overton married Evelyn June Richardson, who preceded him in death on May 2, 1996. He graduated from Wapanucka High School in 1942, and received his Bachelor’s and Master’s of Teaching degrees from Southeastern State College, Durant, Oklahoma. During college he was a professional and semi-pro baseball player.
Overton served in the U.S. Navy “Seabees” in the Southwest Pacific during WWII. He also served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the Army Reserve from 1947-1957.
A teacher and coach for 10 years, he taught at Ravia, Caddo and Shattuck, Oklahoma. After serving as Sales Manager for Compton’s Encyclopedia for five years, he embarked on his career with the Oklahoma Department of Education in 1965. In 1977, Overton resigned his position as State Director of Indian Education to become full time Governor of the Chickasaw Nation.

Having been appointed Chickasaw Governor by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Governor James began what became his life-long passion—dedicating his life to improving the lives of the Chickasaw people. Under his leadership, the Carl Albert Indian Hospital, which served South Central Oklahoma, was built and dedicated in 1980.

Governor James was instrumental in getting legislation passed by the U.S. Government to enable the tribes to elect their governors and chiefs by popular vote. After the passage of the legislation, Overton was the first Chickasaw Governor elected since Oklahoma statehood.

While he was in office the Chickasaw Tribe won the Arkansas Riverbed case, which proved tribal ownership of the Arkansas River. Also settled was the tribe’s claim for return of railroad station grounds taken by the Federal Government, without compensation to the tribe, before Oklahoma Statehood in 1907.

Governor James served five terms as President of the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, with a 24 year perfect attendance record.
The resounding, “I bring you greetings from the great unconquered and unconquerable Chickasaw Nation” was his standard greeting at speeches and gatherings. The quote became a traditional greeting, continued to the present day.

Governor James was a 32nd degree Mason, Shriner, a member of the Ada Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks and a lifetime member of the VFW.

In 1987, he was the first inductee in the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. He was on the Board of Bacone College, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum and Foundation. He was a Trustee of the National Indian Athletic Hall of Fame and served in numerous other positions.

Upon retiring in 1987, Governor James devoted much of his time to his favorite sport of golf, making his 6th hole in one shortly before his 80th birthday.

Governor James is survived by his daughter, Ranell Harry, Tulsa; granddaughter, Dedra Phillips and husband Mark, Tulsa; great-grandchildren, Katelyn Lower, Christopher Lower and Channing Phillips, also of Tulsa. He is also survived by neice Dede Williams and husband Gary, Durant, and their children, Travis Williams and Chris Williams; Chris’ family-wife Angie and children Presley and Kaydee, all of Durant; neice Sue Hooper and husband Roy of Lawton and Van James and family of Indianola.

Governor James’ dedication to the Chickasaw Nation was surpassed only by his dedication to his family. His legacy will live on through those he leaves behind, who have learned from his example of kindness, generosity and love.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Governor Emeritus Overton James Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Chickasaw Foundation, P O Box 1726, Ada, OK 74821.

Obituaries may be viewed and online condolences sent to criswellfh.com

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