Generations of Leadership


John Rooney (right) is seen with then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan during the 1968 Republican Governors Conference in Tulsa. Rooney, an attorney, businessman and longtime Republican booster, was host chairman for the event. Courtesy Tulsa World

He helped many candidates, including former Mayors Hewgley and LaFortune.

With John Rooney in charge, even a political campaign could run as smoothly as a symphony.

The Tulsa lawyer and businessman, who in his quieter moments liked to play the piano and indulge his passion for Beethoven, became a noted maestro in his own right at political organizing.

A longtime Republican Party booster and behind-the-scenes mover, Rooney was even known to juggle fundraising and other aspects for multiple campaigns at the same time.

“He was compulsive about details, and that helped,” his son Mark Rooney said. “And he had an incredibly good memory. He was just a master organizer.”

John Edward Rooney, who was president and chairman of his family’s Tulsa-based holding company, Rooney Corp., died Monday. He was 82.

A funeral Mass is set for 10 a.m. Friday at Holy Family Cathedral under the direction of Fitzgerald Ivy Funeral Home.

John Rooney’s political interest took off in part thanks to his relationship with the late Oklahoma Gov. and U.S. Sen. Dewey Bartlett.

A booster for Bartlett since his first race for state Senate in 1960, Rooney led his inauguration committee when Bartlett became governor in 1967.

One of the high points of Rooney’s political life came the next year, when he was the host chairman of the 1968 Republican Governors Conference, held in Tulsa.

Locally, Rooney was close to former Tulsa Mayors Robert LaFortune, for whom he was finance manager on seven campaigns, and Jim Hewgley Jr.

Known as a soft-spoken man and an impeccable dresser, Rooney preferred to leave the limelight to the candidates.

“You rarely saw his name in front of efforts, but often he was a backer or played a significant background role,” LaFortune said. “John was the force behind the scenes.”

Rooney worked on all of Hewgley’s campaigns, including two successful runs for mayor and a later unsuccessful one for Congress.

“He was an outstanding man,” Hewgley said. “Very bright and a good money-raiser. He had two passions in his life: his religion and politics. And he did very well at both.”

Rooney had an additional tie to Hewgley: Hewgley’s wife, Eileen Hewgley, is Rooney’s older sister.

Rooney, a Muskogee native, moved to Tulsa after receiving his law degree from Georgetown University in 1951.

He and his late brother L.F. Rooney Jr. ran the family’s holding company, whose subsidiary firms ranged from construction and manufacturing to oil, lumber and property.

The family got its start in Oklahoma when Rooney’s grandfather, L.H. Rooney, moved here from Iowa in 1895 and founded Manhattan Construction Co.

The firm built the first state Capitol in Guthrie and went on to become one of the largest construction firms in the Southwest.

In carrying on that legacy, John Rooney also cultivated many civic interests, not the least of which was his longtime association with the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

A lifelong devoted Catholic and member of Holy Family Cathedral, Rooney was a past chairman of the NCCJ’s Tulsa Chapter, now called the Oklahoma Conference for Community and Justice.

For all his interest in politics, Rooney never considered running for office himself.

“I have many friends in politics. My value to the party is in helping them,” he told the Tulsa World in 1968.

Rooney is survived by two daughters, Kathleen Rooney Hastings and Marjorie Rooney Huffman; three sons, John Rooney Jr., Michael Rooney and Mark Rooney; a sister, Eileen Hewgley; 16 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Holy Family Cathedral or to the John E. Rooney Scholarship Fund at Georgetown University.

Link to original article at Tulsa World

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