Omer Gillham

My most vivid memory of Omer Gillham is from January 2001.

Assigned to cover the Oklahoma State plane crash, which claimed the lives of 10 people, we drove together to Stillwater. As we pulled into the university, a man greeted us in the parking lot, and I rolled down the window. It was Bill Hancock, who had lost his son, Will, in the tragedy.

The day was gray, the emotion raw. Words came hard.

As they do now.

We learned Monday that Omer, a veteran reporter who retired from the newspaper earlier this year, had died. He was 53.

Omer had that Civil War look, long and lean with a beard and sunken face.

Add the stovepipe hat and he could have been Abraham Lincoln.

But as imposing as he appeared in person, he was moreso on the phone.

Nobody worked a phone interview like Omer. Never giving an inch, he often raised his voice to get his point across, the conversation drawing the attention of fellow reporters. You could almost see the sources on the other end, sweating and squirming.

Old school to the end, he also pounded the pavement, slinking away from the newsroom to meet those necessary to get the story, which was always telling.

I wished I’d known you better, Omer. You were an original.

We are lonelier without you.

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47 thoughts on “Omer Gillham

  1. Part of what made Omer such a fine writer and reporter was his talent for telling a story. He had a way of transporting you to the place and time of whatever tale or story he was talking or writing about, which is one of those rare qualities all journalists and writers wish for. Omer was such a bright light and I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside him at the Norman Transcript some years ago. He will be missed.

  2. I’m so stunned. May he finally have peace. I loved your story. It shined a light on another aspect of Omer’s personality. He was loved and cared for by so many, and so, so talented. He will be missed by many.

  3. I loved the man and wished I had his way of being order to chaos. He was like that duck on the water – smooth of the surface and paddling like hell underneath. I will truly miss him, but what he taught me will live with me till I draw my last breathe. My prayers are with his family and friends.

  4. I also loved Omer dearly. He never made anyone feel less than or unimportant. He is my definition of Humility

  5. I met Omer thru another old friend of mine from Tulsa, Shari, over 20 years ago. He was special to me from the beginning, I can’t really even put my arms around it now that he is gone. Our relationship grew slowly since it was long distance. Once he moved to Tulsa, it was like we were trying to make up for lost time. 10 years ago I worked in downtown Tulsa. We would meet for lunch eating coneys a few blocks from the World…or cruise for out of the way places to eat and visit for longer and longer visits. Not always a “reason” to meet, more of an excuse to get together. Sometimes he might be at war with an issue, or we would trade seats, and we would battle something going on in my life. English lacks a word for the feelings I had for him…friend, brother, confidante…maybe a port in the storm of life for me absolutely…I hope I was as special for him as he was for me.

    The call yesterday just reduced me to tears….no, not him!! Visiting today with Rachele, holding her tight and crying together, I know there will be no replacement for him. A void is left that cannot quite be filled. Maybe I don’t even want to fill it…it belongs to him. I will miss him so very much. Probably made us all feel that special thing so missing for us all…a non-judgmental being, always there whether at the other end of the turnpike, or squeezed into a booth eating a coney. Can’t bring myself to say good-bye, he just can’t be gone.

  6. As a friend of Omer’s for 25 or so years, I never envisioned a world without Omer.

    Whenever I wanted to describe Omer to anyone, I’d ask them to remember Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I’d say, that’s Omer.

  7. I’m in shock. A great sadness when I heard the news today. I looked up to Omar. He was a mentor to me emotionally. I’ll never forget him coming in to my new print studio with a big smile on his face after hearing all my struggles to build the place for the last year. I knew he was proud of me and that was nice coming from such a class act like him. Sad damn day.

  8. He will be missed but I don’t get it! He wrote so much to help people to learn that life was worth living and to lead by example!

  9. It is a sad day in the journalism world. I met Omer while reporting on the Tar Creek issues in Picher. He was a fine gentleman who will be sorely missed.

    My deepest sympathy to Omer’s friends and family.

    • A very poigant remembrance about Omer, Rhett, and thanks to all the friends who commented and shared their insights into this remarkable reporter and human beig. I particularly thought the Atticus Finch and Abraham Lincoln references were so lovely and so true. Omer was a class act and he made the Tulsa World proud every time he wrote. My heart goes out to Rachele and to his famly. –Julie DelCour

      • Omer has not left us. He’s just too big to see now. May we all remember the thing we most loved about him, and commit to being the next example of it. He’d like that.

  10. Hello and thank you for your blog. I didn’t know Omer well but he made a *huge* impact on the recovery community that he was and I am in. Omer, we remembered you today — had a memorial after a phone meeting, shared stories about you, and cried and sobbed. Thank you Omer. My condolences to all his loved ones, family and others. We read some of your articles together. We would love to see your book published! With love and admiration, Shazam

  11. Omer. You gave me confidence in myself by pointing me toward the way to find my confidence in my own self. You were funny too. Never seeing you before we only shared thru phone and email. I’m happy to see that you were a big ol doofy looking guy. What a hug you probably gave. Take care love.

  12. PS. He emailed me 2 weeks ago. I spoke up at a business meeting about an issue that I thought was wrong. I contacted him afterward and here was his response 2 weeks ago…………….

    Vonnie,

    Wow. You did a great job. I can see how you have stood up for yourself.  You grounded it in the Traditions and you spoke your truth. Keep speaking your truth.  Keep holding up the ____ Traditions.
     
    Omer

    • I too only spoke to Omer on the phone and through email since joining a 12-step fellowship last year. Our fellowship has grown exponentially since 2006 when our fellowship text came out; Omer was a huge part of writing, editing and publishing this text which has helped many, many people heal around the world. I am so grateful for the support and encouragement he gave me. Thank you Omer for your wisdom, patience, and most of all, your search for the truth!

      • Oh I think you and I have something VERYBIG in common. This grieving process is new to me. It’s going ok tho. I would like to come to the Memorial but I don’t know if it would be retraumatizing or super helpful. But those are mine to figure out. Thank you for your words.

  13. Omer was one of the finest friends I’ve ever had, truly a combination brother and soulmate. His contributions to the world will last at least 100 years more, most particularly through his being the main writer of our fellowship text, and his most treasured role as friend will remain in my own heart for eternity. He was perhaps the most honorable man I ever knew, and those who cast him in the likeness of Abraham Lincoln and Atticus Finch are not far from grasping the essence of his soul. A passionate seeker of truth, Omer was capable of every sort of love and compassion. Omer asked so much of himself and strove always to the personal standards in the service of righteousness, and his kind-heartedness and service to others was legendary. No words of praise do honor to this man’s remarkable journey through life, a proud history of overcoming, achieving, and giving his all in service to the betterment of individuals in need and mankind in general. I don’t expect ever in my lifetime to have a better friend than Omer Gillham was to me.

  14. Omer, my fellow traveler, was a strong example of humility. From him I have learned it’s OK to speak my truth and continue on my path. I treasure the precious few moments spent in his presence. I trust the heaviness of my heart will pass and you will live on in my heart, my friend!

  15. I only knew Omer thru grade school and and junior and senior high school. He was one of my close friends thru grade school as we did many things together. When we need some extra cash Omer and I would collect pop bottles and beer can for recycling and getting deposit on the bottle bottles. We played all sports together thru grade school. Baseball, football, basketball, and even bowling. We spent the night together sometime at each others house. His family called him ‘Butch’ maybe because he was the only boy and the rest of (I think) 7 older sisters. He was a very good friend, that I had lost touch with except thru another friend of mine who keep up with him. Omer was a very good athletic. I was very sad when another friend told me of Omer dying. Hopefully he will be in a much better place.

  16. Omer was a friend and mentor, he was there when I/we needed his help with our ACA start-ups in South Florida. He work and service will continue to help many for lifetimes. Thank you my brother.

  17. I only found out today about Omer’s passing, and was deeply shocked. My experience with Omer is as one he interviewed for the series Suicide: Hidden Epidemic. My son Daniel, the Marine war veteran, was featured in the series, so Omer’s interview with me was obviously a walk on tender ground. My first impression of Omer was of a man a bit on the craggy, rough-edged side, and I initially felt a little uneasy. Omer seemed like a soul longer-aged than was the body which housed him. As the interview progressed for two hours or so, I felt increasingly at ease and able to tell my story to Omer. He was compassionate and sensitive; never once did I feel squeezed by him for details beyond my personal comfort level. Several times, after the interview, Omer phoned me to see if a passage, phrase, or even a word, would be OK with me. Toward the end, he send me the entire section of the article relative to Daniel and me, and welcomed me to make any changes I wanted to. I’d never had that kind of experience with a journalist, and will never forget the respect and sensitivity he showed me.

    I am involved with an outreach for veterans, and after we opened (and the World had covered our story and opening), Omer phoned me the next morning expressing his pride in our progress and offering himself to help in any way needed, at any time, to help us with other media coverage which would help us. I was looking forward to calling him a few months from now, as we move forward toward a new location, another opening, and further coverage.

    I learned today that Omer won’t be around for me to call, and I feel something very special will be missing. Someone. Omer.

    Thank you, Omer, for your respect, your care, your sensitivity, and your honoring of my son and myself in your journalistic work, and for all your encouragement toward me in my work with our veterans. I am deeply, deeply sorry for your pain, and only wish you could know how many people have loved you and continue to love and miss you. Only briefly I knew you, and only as an interviewee, but I quickly grew to appreciate you and respect you in your work and in your dealings with people, with my still-rather-raw self at that time, in particular.

    May you be at deep, quiet rest now, both in body and soul. “All is well and all shall be well.” — Julian of Norwich

  18. Julian of Norwich or Mary Ligon I’m not sure who to direct this reply. But, I want to thank you for taking the time to detail Omer’s respectful and sensitive actions in your experience. It was a pleasure to read. I remembered his voice again in my mental ears. Craggy. Thank you so much for posting. I didn’t realize I had more grieving to do since he is no longer here.His absence is a Presence in my life. Vonnie.

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