by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Labor on Tuesday (August 23) honored the memory of the late Mark Costello, who served 2011-15 as Commissioner of Labor.
Employees of the government agency coordinated efforts to plant — at the agency’s headquarters several blocks northwest of the state Capitol – a Redbud tree in Costello’s memory.
The employees’ efforts aimed to remember their murdered leader, who was stabbed to death by his mentally ill eldest son in the parking lot of a restaurant in northwest Oklahoma City.
Several members of the Costello family, including his widow Cathy, participated. Mrs. Costello spoke briefly, remembering her husband’s love for Oklahomans. She said he derived joy – after decades as an entrepreneur – managing the employees who run the workplace safety, wage, compensation and other programs based at the Department of Labor.
Cathy Costello has spent much of the last year advocating for improvements in mental health-related rules, regulations and programs in the Sooner State.
The eldest child of Mark and Cathy, Christian Costello, has for years had schizophrenia and related mental health issues. He used a knife to kill his father, who died in Cathy’s arms.
Charged with murder, Christian remains incarcerated awaiting additional evaluations of his mental state and determination of his ability to participate, if at all, in his own defense.
At the tree-planting, Commissioner of Labor Melissa McLawhorn Houston pointed out that the Redbud is the official state tree. Last year, Governor Mary Fallin appointed Houston to complete Costello’s term of office. This year, Houston renamed in his honor the state award for entrepreneurial excellence that Commissioner Costello established during his tenure.
A representative of TLC, a major tree nursery company, joined Mark Bays, urban forester for the state Forestry Service, in preparing the planting.
Employees joined the Costello children and Mrs. Costello in covering the roots of the four-year-old Redbud as it was placed at its new home. Corporation Commissioners Dana Murphy and Todd Hiett, members of the Legislature and other dignitaries attended and also shoveled dirt around the hardy plant.
The eldest Costello daughter, Anna-Marie, held a poster board containing one of father’s favorite Scriptures (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Phillipians 4:8) – “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about this things.”
Siblings Caitlin and Kolbe also participated. The young man wore a vest of Irish tartan. Their brother, Ian, could not attend because, his mother explained, he was at a new job and Mark would have wanted him to concentrate on that.
Rev. Stephen V. Hamilton, pastor of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Edmond where the Costellos often worship, blessed the tree moments before it reentered the ground. His prayer, in part, read: “May that which we plant today be given health and strength to stretch its roots deep in this soil.”
Gov. Mary Fallin issued a prepared statement moments after the ceremony, saying:
“My thoughts and prayers go out today to the family and friends of Mark Costello, as well as employees of the Department of Labor. Mark passed away from us too early in life. Mark was a dedicated public servant and a devoted husband and father.”
Rain seemed imminent as the event began. Mrs. Costello looked toward the clouds and asked her husband to keep the rain at stay. As the proceedings began, a few sprinkles adorned the agency parking lot, the tree and attendees, but there was no deluge.
As the ceremony concluded precipitation evolved, taking on a steady pace. After, it nourished the ground all about, sufficient to wet the heart-shaped leaves of the tree, reaching into the ground to feed the Oklahoma soil.