William Milner “Bill” Waller was born Feb. 21, 1926, in Pawhuska,
Okla., to William H. and Ethel Virginia Waller. He spent his childhood
in Wynona, Okla. (halfway between Hominy and Pawhuska) and moved with
his family to Claremore in 1943 when his father became employed at the
DuPont “powder plant” near Pryor. He attended high school
in Claremore his final two years of high school, graduating in 1944 as
salutatorian of his class. Even then, his teachers knew he was going places.
Bill spent a brief time in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and
graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in journalism.
He wasn’t afraid to work hard to pay his way through school after
the war – he worked at various jobs in Claremore, in one instance
driving a trash truck on which his brother Bob was the “trash heaver.”
He paid for his senior year of college by working a summer as a ditch-digger
for Oklahoma Natural Gas Company.
He loved many things in life, but there were a few passions that truly
defined who he was: his writing, the City of Tulsa, his family, and most
of all his wife, Jo Donna.
The love of words started early, with Bill working on the University of
Arkansas newspaper and serving as editor of the university yearbook. Throughout
his life he found ways to pursue this passion for writing – as managing
editor of the
Claremore Daily Progress, editor of
Tulsa Magazine, and in the countless op-ed pieces he contributed to the
Tulsa World and
Tulsa Tribune as a business leader. He had a way with words that made you want to read
more, and he always made sure to take advantage of the entire English
vocabulary, picking precisely the word that was needed. After retiring
from the business world, he returned to writing and served as a staff
writer for the
Bill felt just as strongly about the City of Tulsa. This was a city he
loved, and he showed it by giving his considerable talents and time to
move the city forward. In addition to being a universally respected business
leader as longtime CEO and Chairman of State Federal Savings & Loan
Association, he jumped into civic involvement with both feet. There’s
not room to list all of the boards he led or served on (in Tulsa or at
the state and national level), but a short list is telling of the impact
he had: Chairman, Metro Tulsa Chamber of Commerce; Chairman, Tulsa Economic
Development Commission; Trustee, Tulsa Performing Arts Center; Chairman,
Tulsa Arts & Humanities Council; President, Downtown Tulsa Unlimited;
Governor’s appointee to Oklahoma’s first Ethics Commission;
Board Member and Chairman, American Automobile Association (AAA), Oklahoma.
He’s only the second man ever to have worked for the Tulsa Chamber
of Commerce and then serve years later as its board chairman.
As a father (as well as an uncle and grandfather), there simply wasn’t
anyone better. He taught us manners, how to enjoy life and be adventurous
traveling, how to write, to love the Tulsa State Fair, the finer points
of baseball, and how to play golf (with mixed success). He wasn’t
afraid to roll up his pants and go time swim meets, and he attended every
play, athletic race and important event in the life of his children and
his two granddaughters, whom he adored. We knew we were loved by this
man with a big heart, and he taught us life lessons we use every day.
And then there was the love of his life, Jo Donna. What can you say about
a marriage that lasted 60+ years? She was the apple of his eye, the girl
he felt lucky to be with. Even in the week before he passed, he and Jo
were spotted holding hands as they lay in bed watching football. It was
a love for the ages. He said it best when he wrote these words in a proclamation
given to the family at their 50th anniversary: “I fell in love with my wife. But I’m talking
about being suddenly and inexplicably struck by a giddy sense of disbelief
and awe that this elegant person had by her own choice actually vouchsafed
to allow me to share her daily existence – forever. This kind of
love explains why people our age still walk holding hands, or exchange
private, meaningful glances at one another across a crowded room.”
His words and actions have left a huge legacy for a boy from small-town
Wynona. But he was that kind of man. Bill is survived by his beloved wife
Jo; his daughter Sarah Scott and son Barrett Waller; granddaughters Darcy
Waller and Rowan Waller; daughter-in-law Mary Waller and son-in-law Doug
Scott; nieces Vanda Waller and Vanesa Masucci; and many other family members.
Funeral services are set for 1 p.m. Saturday, October 24, 2015, at St.
John’s Episcopal Church, 4200 S. Atlanta Place.