Johnston Murray

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Johnston Murray
Gov Johnston Murray.jpg
14th Governor of Oklahoma
In office
January 8, 1951 – January 10, 1955
Lieutenant James E. Berry
Preceded by Roy J. Turner
Succeeded by Raymond D. Gary
Personal details
Born (1902-07-21)July 21, 1902
Emet, Johnston County, Indian Territory
Died April 16, 1974(1974-04-16) (aged 71)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
Resting place Tishomingo City Cemetery
34°13′38.6″N 96°40′43.3″W / 34.227389°N 96.678694°W / 34.227389; -96.678694 (Johnston Murray Burial Site)
Political party Democratic
Relatives William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray (father)
Profession lawyer

Johnston Murray (July 21, 1902 – April 16, 1974) was an American lawyer and the 14th governor of Oklahoma. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as governor from 1951 to 1955. His father, William H. Murray, was the ninth governor of Oklahoma and the president of the constitutional convention leading up to statehood. Both are buried in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.

Johnston Murray served as governor from 1951 to 1955.[1] He attempted to reduce state spending but was blocked by state legislators.[2] Since he was prohibited, constitutionally, from succeeding himself, his wife Willie ran for governor in 1954 but failed to win. A few months later there was a bitter divorce with Willie accusing Murray of public drunkenness and adultery.[2] The divorce was final in 1956 and he later married Helen Shutt. Murray moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and worked for an oil well servicing company and later with a limousine service.[2] Murray returned to Oklahoma City and formed a law partnership with Whit Pate in February 1960. He ran for Oklahoma State Treasurer in 1962, surprisingly finishing last in the four-man Democratic primary field with 77,881 votes (18.24%).[3] He later worked as a consulting attorney for the Oklahoma Department of Welfare.[4]

Early life

Murray was born July 21, 1902, in the mansion of the Chickasaw Nation's Governor at Emet, Johnston County, Indian Territory. His mother, Mary Alice Hearrell, was one-eighth Chickasaw,[a] Chief Johnston, for whom the boy was named, had employed the father, William H. Murray, as his legal advisor. His early education was provided in the public schools of Tishomingo, Oklahoma.[5]

Johnston Murray married Marion Draughon of Sulphur, Oklahoma, in 1923 and had one child.[2]

Early career

After graduation from the Murray State School of Agriculture (now Murray State College) in 1924, he went to Bolivia where he lived for four years trying to make a success of his father's colonization expedition there.[2] When he returned to Oklahoma, he worked in oil and gas fields, rising to the role of plant manager.[6] Murray divorced Marion in 1929 and married Willie Roberta Emerson in 1933.[2]

Political career

Murray received his law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1947. He was chairman of the Oklahoma Electoral College in 1940 and a member of the Electoral College again in 1948.[4]

Before his election as governor, Murray served as Democratic chair of the Oklahoma Eighth Congressional District and as chair of local political groups in Kay and Oklahoma counties.[6] He also served as chair of the Oklahoma Election Board and secretary of the Oklahoma Land Commission.[6]

Governor of Oklahoma

Johnston Murray was elected Governor of Oklahoma in November 1950 and sworn into office on January 21, 1951. The oath of office was administered by his 81-year old father, "Alfalfa Bill" Murray. The two men were very much unlike. His main campaign theme was to reduce spending by the state government and reduce taxes. His program included continuing to consolidate schools to improve education (begun under his predecessor, Governor Roy J. Turner), changing the ad valorem tax to return more of the property taxes to local school districts, and expanding highway and toll road systems.[7] He would have to attack some of the populist policies and programs that his father had pushed so hard for. The majority of legislators were not inclined to follow his lead. Moreover, he seemed to be an ordinary "nice guy," not irascible like his father, who often made legislators tremble at the thought of crossing him.

Johnston did have some successes that were noteworthy. He was elected Chairman of the Southern Governors Conference (the first Oklahoma governor to hold that position); he secured approval and funding of the Turner Turnpike and was instrumental in the purchasing of the Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. He toured Central and South American countries on behalf of the United States Information Service in 1954, and served as chairman of the Interstate Oil Compact Commission.[5][b] This governor had the distinction of vetoing forty bills in forty years, the highest number in forty years of Oklahoma politics.[8]

Johnston and Willie

The new first lady, Willie Murray, was noted as a concert pianist with charm and intelligence. Less well-known were her fire and ambition.[c] Her first action after Johnston's inauguration was to open the governor's mansion to public visitors every Thursday. She welcomed up to 3,000 people, who lined up at the door every week. Johnson began to rebel against their differences as the term wore on. Willie complained that he drank too much. He replied that she was too bossy. According to one article, he exclaimed, "“Damn it, I got elected, not her.”[9]

The state constitution prevented the governor from succeeding himself when his term expired. Before the term was up, Willie announced that she would run for the office. The campaign was a farce. She became the first state-wide candidate ever to campaign for office by helicopter. One reporter wrote that the helicopter, "... was the only thing that got off the ground."[9]

After the 1954 election, Johnston filed for divorce. Willie fought back, asking for separate maintenance and alleging adultery and public drunkenness. The brawl went public, of course. He asked for another chance, she named another woman, and published letters from him declaring his intention to divorce. He called it all lies. Finally, the drama played out and the divorce was granted on the grounds of incompatibility. Willie got a $75,000 settlement, the family's home in Oklahoma City, a Ford automobile, and a movie of her gubernatorial campaign. Willie also got the last word, when Johnston announced that he had changed his political affiliation and supported Republican Dwight Eisenhower for President in 1956. Willie reportedly announced, “He never has been much of a Democrat.”[9]


Murray served as an attorney with the Oklahoma Department of Public Welfare until his death April 16, 1974.[1] He is buried in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, where his father, William Murray is also buried.[1]


  1. ^ Mary Alice was the niece of the noted Chickasaw Governor, Douglas H. Johnston, making young Murray the first Oklahoma governor of Native American descent.
  2. ^ The Interstate Oil Compact Commission (IOCC) is now named the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) is the largest compact in the United States. It has 31 member and 11 associate member states.
  3. ^ Some political writers said those qualities were what pushed the soft-spoken Johnston into political office.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Oklahoma Department of Libraries biography
  2. ^ a b c d e f Dowell, Erin, "Murray, Johnston (1902–1974)," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture Archived May 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. (accessed May 27, 2010).
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Oklahoma Governor Johnston Murray". National Governors Association. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Johnston Murray - Tishomingo Cemetery - Tishomingo, OK." Waymarking. June 6, 2017. Accessed August 6, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Myers, Jim L. "Johnston Murray Governor of Oklahoma 1951–1955." Fischer, LeRoy H., ed., Oklahoma's Governors, 1929–1955: Depression to Prosperity (Oklahoma Historical Society, 1983), pp 174–195. ISBN 0-941498-34-4
  7. ^ Gibson, Arrell Morgan (1965). "Oklahoma Politics: The Middle Years 1930-1955". Oklahoma, a History of Five Centuries. Harlow Publishing Co. pp. 240–241. ISBN 978-0-8061-1758-4.
  8. ^ Gibson, p. 241
  9. ^ a b c d Cronley, Connie. "Much Love Lost." This Land. February 8, 2015. Accessed August 6, 2018.

External links

  • "Johnston Murray". Oklahoma Governor. Find a Grave. September 14, 2004. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  • National Governors Association
  • Oklahoma Historical Society

Political offices
Preceded by
Roy J. Turner
Governor of

Succeeded by
Raymond D. Gary
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