I am sorry to lose a great friend and an inspiration….
Welcome back. The date was November 12, 1919; William Howard Taft was President of the United States, World War I officially ended and in Oklahoma oilman Waite Phillips had already made several fortunes in the oil and gas business. It was also in 1919 that Phillips opened an office in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and discovered an oil patch so big that they named it after him. Two hundred high producing wells were drilled in the Phillipsville pool and Waite began opening his own chain of gas stations in the Tulsa area.
Another important event took place on that crisp fall day in 1919 that would impact many lives in a different way. Twenty miles north of Claremore in the small town of Chelsea, a baby was born into Oklahoma royalty. Her grandmother was Will Rogers ‘sister and as a girl she would follow in Will’s footsteps, accompanying him to events. She was a person who often stood by his shoulder when he spoke breathing the same air.
Will Rogers was becoming famous around the world but to this little girl he was just “Uncle Will.” She listened to him on the radio, clipped all of his newspaper articles (saving most of them) and treasured the days when he came to visit her family who were now living in Caney, Kansas. She especially looked forward to the Christmas holidays as Will always had a car full of presents.
When the great depression of the 1930s hit, the little girl’s family moved to Bartlesville. Frank Phillips and Will were good friends and Will would come to town often. Always observant, she remembered that he and Frank were very popular in the community. Growing up, the little girl had the chance to meet many of Will’s famous friends including E.W. Marland who was present at the dedication of the Pioneer Woman statute in Ponca City which she and Will attended.
Then in 1935 Will was tragically killed in a plane crash with his friend Wily Post. The girl was there when Charles Lindbergh arranged to have the bodies brought back from Alaska where the crash occurred.
In the many years that followed the girl, now a grown woman dedicated her life to preserving Will’s memory by telling stories about him at every opportunity. By now many of you may realize that the woman was Doris “Coke” Lane Meyer and she was the last living relative of Will Rogers’ who actually knew him.
Although I had known her before, Coke’s book about her uncle “I Called Him Uncle Will” brought the two of us even closer as we traveled together to many different towns doing book signings. It was only in the past few months at the age of 97 that she had begun to slow down and for many Rogers’s fans her death on Sunday has stopped time right in its tracks. I do know that one of Will’s favorite quotes when he was speaking about the death of his sister was also one of Coke’s favorite sayings and this seems like the proper time to use it.
“Death didn’t scare her, it was only an episode in her life. If you live right death is a joke to you as far as fear is concerned.” Will Rogers 1925
Thank you Will Rodgers and thank you Coke for inspiring so many.
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…………..