Former Seminole Nation Chief and Oklahoma State Sen. Enoch Kelly Haney has died at age 81.
A renowned painter and sculptor whose piece “The Guardian” stands atop the Oklahoma State Capitol, Haney served as a Democrat in the House from 1980 to 1986 and in the Senate from 1986 to 2002. He ran for governor in 2002, losing in the primary to eventual Gov. Brad Henry.
“I have been in politics over 30 years, and he’s the epitome of what real public service is,” said Sheryl Lovelady, who served on Haney’s staff in the State Senate. “I’m not in any way exaggerating.”
After leaving the Legislature, Haney was elected to a single term as principal chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in 2005.
“He answered the call for the Seminole Nation when there needed to be some stability and there needed to be a respected leader at the helm,” recalled former Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor (D-Claremore). “He did not need to do that, and frankly he didn’t really want to, but he knew there needed to be a leader so he did.”
Taylor said he spoke to Haney a few weeks ago before his friend became ill.
“We served together in the House and in the Senate for 24 years, and he touched a lot of lives in Oklahoma both in a big way and in a small way,” Taylor said. “He was always a strong proponent of education because he went to a rural school like I did, and he believed that Oklahoma’s path upward was through education.”
Taylor recalled a line that he said Haney often used on the Senate floor.
“I remember he would always quote his father, who said, ‘Son, when you do good, you do good for all people,'” Taylor said. “And he would give that quote on a regular basis about our obligation as members of the Senate to look after everyone.”
Taylor called Haney “a valuable member of my leadership team as the appropriations chairman.”
“He was always able to negotiate difficult issues with the House or the governor and do it with diplomacy,” Taylor said. “The people of his district particularly owe him a debt of gratitude because nobody built more roads or did more for infrastructure in their district than Kelly Haney.”
Former Rep. Ryan Kiesel (D-Seminole) was from Haney’s district, and he paged for Haney during high school. Kiesel later served on his staff when Haney was chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committee.
“Just about every road I have traveled in my professional and personal life can find its way back to Kelly Haney,” Kiesel said. “While many will remember him for The Guardian standing atop our Capitol, I’ll also always see him in volunteer fire departments that he helped or the small towns in need of critical infrastructure that he never forgot as he chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
Kiesel said Haney “had a wicked sense of humor.”
“He told a political opponent who once claimed, ‘God had told me to run for office,’ that God also told Kelly Haney to run, but that God said that he was going to win,” Kiesel recalled. “And Sen. Haney was fearless, which was cemented in my mind as he scaled a precarious ladder to personally watch as his sculpture was fitted on top of the Capitol for the ages. Now that he too is with the ages, I’ll continue to tell my kids about opportunities he gave to me, hoping they will realize the power that one person can have to bring good into the world.”
‘He thought that dialogue was the most important thing’
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma Assistant Chief Brian Palmer called Haney “an inspiration” in a Facebook post.
“With a heavy heart, the Seminole Nation woke to the news of the passing of Chief Kelly Haney,” Palmer said. “An inspiration to many, an accomplished artist, his work with the state and later as chief highlighted his career, but his greatest achievement is that of family. Keep his family in prayer and may they find comfort in knowing the Seminole Nation and Indian Country mourns his loss.”
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby also posted a statement on Facebook saying Haney would be missed.
“We are sorry to learn of the passing of our longtime friend Enoch Kelly Haney,” Anoatubby wrote. “He was a talented artist, gifted leader, minister, family man and a genuine role model. He will be missed by us all. May his family and friends be comforted in this time of loss by the examples he set. I offer my condolences.”
Taylor praised Haney — who also had heritage from the Muscogee Nation — as a leader who could help governments cooperate.
“He thought that dialogue was the most important thing between tribal government and state government, and he was right,” Taylor said. “If we can sit down together and discuss, we can often move Oklahoma forward for everybody. While he was a very, very proud member of the Seminole and the Muscogee (Creek) nations, he was also someone who could walk in both worlds as a government leader.
“He was also the driving force for putting the flags of all the tribal governments on the Capitol grounds as showing that Oklahoma was a state that came from those lands.”
John Hargrave was mayor of Wewoka while Haney was principal chief of the Seminole Nation.
“We did a downtown revitalization project, and Kelly Haney was instrumental with that, including bringing back and restoring the historic Wewoka Switch Depot,” Hargrave recalled. “I worked with Kelly on numerous projects. I’ve been on a lot of boards and committees with Kelly. He was well-known to the community and was a good partner to work with for the City of Wewoka and the Seminole Nation. Kelly was very quiet, very patient and he would take on and work on long-term projects with a lot of resiliency. That’s something that might have set him apart.”
Lovelady, who would photograph Haney’s finished paintings in Seminole, said she once asked her friend to put in a good word for her when she was seeking a job at the University of Oklahoma. Instead, however, she ended up working for his campaign and, eventually, his Senate office.
“I was helping a constituent with an issue with autism, and I wondered if I had kind of overstepped (because) it was my first week on the job,” Lovelady said. “He said, “Sheryl, if we can’t use this office to help children, I don’t know why on Earth we are here.’ That’s the kind of man he was.”
Lovelady said Haney was an ordained Methodist minister who had seven children. English was his second language, and Lovelady said his love of drawing developed early in life. One time, his mother ran out of paper when he was a child.
“So she told him he could just go ahead and draw on the walls,” Lovelady said.
She recalled a conservation they had on the road.
“One day, we were just driving along, and he said, ‘When I was a little boy, I went to town in the back of a wagon. And as an artist, I took the Concord to Paris. I’ve lived a very amazing life,'” Lovelady said.