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'Old Buddies' Return to Oklahoma

WITH the squabbling in Washington echoing in my ears, I left for Oklahoma and a trip down memory lane. My University of Oklahoma law school graduating class of 1940 was having its 55th reunion. I hadn't seen my classmates over the years. Now, out of a class of some 100 seniors only 13 were making it back for this gathering at the Oklahoma City country club.

The others attending the reunion had, for the most part, stayed in Oklahoma and had kept up with one another. They chatted together that evening as old friends would - small talk about recent experiences they had shared. I was the only stranger. But I was welcomed in and soon became one of them.

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It was just the way it had happened years ago when I came from outside the state to go to the OU law school. On my first day at class the young fellows sitting on my right and on my left reached over and shook my hand, both addressing me as ''Old Buddy.'' I hadn't heard that greeting before. It had a special warmth to it that went beyond a mere welcome. And that's how I was treated by all my classmates back then.

Ours had been a Great Depression class. Several in the group mentioned how we all had to work at side jobs to pay for our room and board. There was no tuition; Oklahoma oil taxes took care of that. That's what attracted me to the school - together with a free room in the home of a sister who was on the faculty.

In 1939-40 many people were starving. Little kids pulling their small wagons would sift through garbage cans. You helped them when you could and you gave a meal to the hungry fellow who knocked on your door.

The prospect for law students was bleak. Dr. Wright gave this counsel to his class in corporation law on our first day - in a little talk he said he had been giving every year for some time: ''After you graduate,'' he said, ''hitch-hike around until you find a community with only a couple of old lawyers and then hang out your shingle.'' ''And then,'' he said with a smile, ''if after a few years you aren't getting anywhere, my advice to you is to marry the banker's daughter.'' We all laughed. But we all knew that a difficult road lay ahead.

There were also the war clouds on the horizon. We knew we would soon be putting aside any hopes for a law career for a stint in the military. I was called up in nine months, not to return to civilian life for five years. That's when I made a turn toward a new career.

We lost some of our classmates in the war, contributing to the slimness of the size of our little band of returnees.

Women were scarce in my class. Indeed, back then we wondered why any woman would go to all the work of getting a law degree while knowing she would probably end up as a clerk in some male lawyer's office.

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Well, women have come a long way in the law since then, particularly in Oklahoma. In fact, it was the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Alma Wilson, who prevailed upon my wife and me to make this trip back to the reunion. She was Alma Bell when I knew her and she was two years behind me in law school. After a slow start, she was able to climb upward and in 1982 became the first woman to serve on the Oklahoma Supreme Court. And she was elevated to the chief justice position last year.

Mrs. Wilson looks like Ann Richards and has a similar bubbling personality and quick wit. And, like the former Texas governor, she's a world champion handshaker. So it was natural for me to ask if she had thought of running for governor. She smiled and said, joshingly, ''Some have suggested that - but I am feeling no great groundswell.''

All in all I had a wonderful weekend of nostalgia and warm camaraderie. And I even got to talk a little politics.

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