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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Oklahoma statesman Dr. Tom Coburn passes at age 72


Oklahoma has lost one of its greatest adopted sons, with the death of Tom Coburn.

Husband. Father. Christian. Employer. Student. Physician. Congressman. Senator. Conservative. Oklahoman. Patriot. These were all labels held by Thomas Allen Coburn during his 72-year long life.

Born in Wyoming, Coburn graduated from Muskogee High School in 1966, married former Miss Oklahoma Carolyn Denton in 1968, and Oklahoma State University with a degree in Accounting in 1970. For most of the 1970s, Coburn worked in the family business, Coburn Optical Industries, in Virginia, growing the company to prominance in its industry.

After a bout with malignant melanoma, Coburn turned his tremendous focus and energy to what became his most iconic and defining role, that of physician. At the age of 35, Dr. Coburn graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine with a M.D., opening a private family practice in Muskogee the following year.

Over the rest of his medical career, Dr. Coburn delivered over 4,000 babies in Muskogee, including yours truly and my sister. The number of families that Dr. Coburn touched and impacted through his role as a physician numbers in the tens of thousands.

In 1994, Dr. Coburn transitioned yet again to another role, that of citizen legislator. He became the first Republican since Alice Robertson (elected to one term in 1920) to hold Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District.

A hardcore conservative in every aspect, Coburn was a pro-life champion and advocate for fiscal discipline.

Dr. Coburn hit the United States House of Representatives like an Oklahoma tornado, tearing into wasteful spending with an unprecedented ferocity. His focus on attacking legislation congressional pork barrel spending and wasteful appropriations gave him the moniker 'Dr. No'. He was a "Tea Party radical" fifteen years before the movement emerged.

A man of character and integrity, Dr. Coburn made a pledge to serve no more than three terms in the U.S. House. Of the dozens of members who made the same pledge, he was one of just a handful who actually kept their word.

Dr. Coburn returned to his medical practice after leaving the House, but in 2004 he returned to politics when he was elected to the United States Senate. His Senate tenure mirrored that of his House service. Doctor No was back in service, blocking wasteful spending bills with a vengeance. Dr. Coburn was the leading fiscal conservative in the Senate for the ten years that he served.

A citizen legislator, during his time in the House and Senate, Dr. Tom continued practicing medicine. Due to ethics rules, Dr. Coburn essentially paid out of pocket for the privilege of continuing to serve his patients, barred from receiving any profit.

Protecting freedom and fiscal security for America's children and grandchildren motivated Dr. Coburn to warn about the dangerously increasing national debt. He constantly made the bankrupting national debt a focus of his warnings for the future, authoring two books that made the topic a central theme.

His use of the Senate hold on pork-barrel spending was legendary and record-breaking, angering both Democrats and Republicans. A direct result of his long efforts, congressional earmarking eventually came to an end.

Frustration with Senate gridlock and refusal to exercise any fiscal restraint led Dr. Coburn to the conclusion that he could better effect fiscal awareness and change as a private citizen, leading to his resignation from the Senate in 2014.

Cancer, the factor that drove Coburn into medicine, continued to plague him, as he survived bouts with melanoma, colon, and prostate cancer, the latter of which he fought off and on since 2011.

Tom Coburn passed away today at his home in Tulsa from complications relating to his long-running battle with prostate cancer, according to close associates. Services will be announced later.

Doctor Coburn was our family physician, a carpet cleaning customer, and a family friend. I am grateful and better for having known and interacted with him.

Oklahoma has lost a true statesman, a son of which she can be forever proud. He will be sorely missed.

Farewell, Doctor Tom.

In closing, here is his farewell address to the United States Senate. It's well worth the watch.


P.S. Have a memory or tribute about Dr. Coburn that you'd be willing to share? Send it to JamisonFaught@MuskogeePolitico.com. 

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