By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Newspaper
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Hatton W. Sumners Foundation honored Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry with its Distinguished Public Service Award during a surprise presentation at Henry’s retirement celebration on April 7.
The foundation recognized Henry for his career in all three branches of government including his time as chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, his career as dean of the OCU School of Law, his eight years as OCU president and his many civic and philanthropic endeavors.
A resolution for the award stated, “The trustees of the foundation wish to express their appreciation for President Henry’s many achievements that have served to make Oklahoma and the United States a better state and a better nation.”
The award included a medal with an inscription quoting Congressman Sumners, that said, “There is no such thing as a ‘creature called government, which lives and moves and has a detached, self-determining, self-sustaining nature that does our thinking and governing for us.’”
“I am greatly honored to receive this award,” Henry said. “Congressman Sumners was a hero, patriot and public servant of the highest order. To be associated with him in this way is a signal honor that I will cherish all of my life. I am grateful to Hugh Akin and the distinguished trustees of the foundation who are all noted public servants.”
Henry will retire as the university’s 17th president effective June 30. Former energy executive Martha Burger will assume the role the following day.
During the April 7 tribute, titled “Much Ado About Robert,” Board Chairman Ron Norick announced that the Robert H. Henry Endowed Chair in Humanities and Law will be established in honor of the president.
Contributions to the chair can be made by calling 405-208-7000 or emailing [email protected].
Recently, Henry reflected on his time at OCU with Miguel Rios, the university’s editor in chief, emeritus. Henry said, “the best part of the job was talking to the students.”
Accounting junior Kevin Chissoe recalled how Henry would often sit with groups of students in the café. “When he sat with me and others around me, he would always ask how everything was going and actually have conversations with us,” Chissoe said. “He was always very respectful.”
Callie Michaud, design and production senior and OCULeads student said, “I think his greatest accomplishment as president was how well known and well liked he was by the student body because he always put in so much effort into being present in the students’ lives, even in smaller departments.”
Henry also said that the job of president requires a lot of energy. “I put together a really strong cabinet, and we all work really well together. I also have a superlative board of directors. I never had to worry about my board’s commitment. Those are things students don’t often get to know about.”
Henry pointed out that it was difficult to keep his energy level high when there were events nearly every night. He noted that dealing with campus property damages and arguments with insurance companies could be difficult.
“None of these things I did. They were all ‘we did.’ It’s not possible for a single person,” he said. “I’ve had two great provosts, Susan Barber and Kent Buchanan. Those two have really been extremely helpful.”
Buchanan said that he believed a key part of Henry’s legacy would be dealing with the university’s financial situation. “He spent a lot of time early on going through his friends in the banking areas and trying to get these things under control. So that was a tremendous accomplishment and really helped the university out.”
Under President Henry’s leadership, the Oklahoma City University School of Law moved off campus to its downtown location in order to connect students more closely with internship and employment opportunities, and ultimately led to the creation of the physician assistant program.
“The university is moving in the right direction,” Henry told Rios
Henry’s parting message for the campus community is to “be of good cheer, be creative, be collaborative.”.”
Henry’s accomplishments at OCU have earned him numerous awards and accolades including the Governor George Nigh Public Service Arts Award in 2011, the Oklahoma Native Son Award in 2013, the Excellence in Leadership Award in 2015, the Spirit of Oklahoma Award in 2016, and lifetime achievement awards for his legal writing and interfaith work.
“The president is the face of the university, and, over the last eight years, I was so fortunate I was presented with all these awards and honors,” Henry said. “The community could tell that I was a part of the community and that OCU was a part of the community. I’m very pleased with that.”
To read Rios entire interview, visit mediaocu.com.