Hall of Fame Member Biographies

George Nigh

Service to the people of Oklahoma in a public setting has been the life story of George Nigh, and the strongest strand of his public service has been promotion of education. A native of Oklahoma, George Nigh graduated from McAlester High School, obtained an A.A. in liberal arts from Eastern Oklahoma A&M College (Wilburton), and then a B.A. from East Central State College (Ada). He became a social sciences teacher at McAlester High School 1951-1958, and at the same time was elected for four terms to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, being the youngest member ever to obtain that office. Then in 1958 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor (again, being the youngest person ever selected for that post), and in 1963 became the Governor following the resignation of J. Howard Edmondson. He was then elected Lieutenant Governor from 1966 to 1978, being elected Governor in 1978. In 1982 he became the first governor to be re-elected to that office, and then the first to have been Governor four times. During his time as Governor, George Nigh was convinced that the best way to advance Oklahoma economically and culturally was to expand public education. Under his guidance, budgets for higher education were generous. He also oversaw the largest capital bond issue for aiding construction on the state's campuses in Oklahoma's history. When the price of oil crashed in 1983 and threatened disaster to the state budget, George Nigh shielded higher education from draconian budget cuts. Upon leaving the Governor's Mansion, he then took a position at the University of Central Oklahoma as Distinguished Statesman-in-Residence. There he recruited students and taught them the necessity and rewards of a life of public service. In 1992 he was selected to be the President of the University of Central Oklahoma and embarked on an ambitious program of construction, renovation of older buildings, acquisition of new technologies, and advances in methods of teaching. To fund these projects, George Nigh found methods of finance not used before in Oklahoma higher education, and he pioneered processes in funding and construction management now commonly used throughout the state. He and his wife established the George and Donna Nigh Scholarship Program available to all state institutions. For these accomplishments, George Nigh has been selected as a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, elected as an East Central University Distinguished Alumnus, Eastern Oklahoma College Hall of Fame, and a choice for the Oklahoma Career Technology Hall of Fame. He earned the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served on many boards of Oklahoma companies: IBC Bank Director, Boatsman's First National Bank Director, Southern States Energy Board, and Chair of the Oklahoma Tourism Commission. After 66 years of public service, he is still actively engaged in promoting higher education, and teaches and mentors Oklahoma college and university students in courses of study designed to prepare them for careers in public service. For his devotion to higher education and his promotion of the goals of public service, the OHEHS welcomes George Nigh to the class of inductees of the 2016 Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame.