J. Leland Gourley, one of the first graduates of the College of Liberal Studies after it was established in 1961, passed away Oct. 19, 2013, at the age of 94. Gourley was a proud advocate of the University of Oklahoma and the College of Continuing Education. He was a part of the committee that helped secure funding to build the Kellogg Continuing Education Center, where the College of Liberal Studies is housed. A pioneering spirit throughout his life, Gourley helped promote the college in its early years by his advocacy and his early success in the program. He was a 1963 graduate of the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program.
Those who have worked any time at all in the front office of OKC FRIDAY Newspaper know who has arrived by the sound of the closing door. When Leland Gourley came to work, it was a presence.
“Can someone buy an ad here?” he would say. Picking up the day’s copies of the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Oklahoman left for him, he’d wonder if the sales staff hadn’t come in that day since they hadn’t already grabbed the newspapers and begun prospecting. The banter would continue. “You look good today Mr. Gourley.” “Can’t help it,” he’d reply.
Leland was born in Mounds, Okla., orphaned at age 12 and raised by relatives, attending different schools each year. He graduated from high school in Houston, Mo. and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”
Leland enrolled in the University of Oklahoma, where his uncle was dean. When his financial resources were exhausted, he dropped out of school and secured a $15-a-week job on the Seminole Producer.
In 1940, he became the youngest state editor of the Associated Press. He was then drafted by the U.S. Army to serve in World War II, rising to the rank of major.
Upon his return from the war, he purchased the Henryetta Daily Freelance, becoming the youngest daily newspaper publisher in the state. When he died, he was the oldest.
A 1958 column led to the election of Tulsa prosecutor J. Howard Edmondson as governor and Leland was named his chief of staff. Once Edmondson was out of office, Leland co-founded and ran the “flying saucer bank,” State Capitol on Lincoln Boulevard. It featured a conference room that doubled as an elevator. Pictures of the building appeared in the New York Times and graced the cover of Look magazine.
State Capitol Bank was named one of the “10 Fastest Growing Small Banks in America” by American Banker. Today, the facility is an Arvest Bank and its employees and customers are still awed by its design.
In 1974, Leland established OKC FRIDAY and Fridayland. With the mission of serving the “oppressed affluent,” he grew the newspaper in the largest paid-circulation weekly in Oklahoma.
Fridayland neighbors still anxiously await the arrival of each week’s edition so they can look for photos and stories of themselves, their friends and their neighbors.
Until his death, Leland came to work each day, usually in a shirt and tie. He would impart wisdom and inspiration to many who called or stopped by to visit.
One of his last projects was the implementation of the “FRIDAY loves you” campaign, complete with t-shirts for the “Fridaylander of the Week.”
“He never stopped coming up with new ideas to help the community and grow the newspaper,” general manager and deputy publisher Rose Lane said. “His incredible drive and enthusiasm for his city and his state will never be replicated.”