The City Sentinel

Human rights activist Bob Lemon remembered as an Oklahoma City treasure

Darla Shelden Story by on October 24, 2016 . Click on author name to view all articles by this author. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
(L-R) Grand Marshall Bob Lemon, rode with his son Chrys Lemon, and Harold Watson in the 2013 OKC Pride Parade while daughter Robyn Lemon Sellers walks alongside waving a Pride flag. Photo by Darla Shelden

(L-R) Grand Marshall Bob Lemon, rode with his son Chrys Lemon, and Harold Watson in the 2013 OKC Pride Parade while daughter Robyn Lemon Sellers walked alongside waving a Pride flag. Photo by Darla Shelden

By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

Robert Dell Lemon, attorney and passionate advocate for human dignity and equality, died Saturday at his home in Oklahoma City. He was 87 years old.

Born in Shattuck, Oklahoma, in 1929,  equal rights activist Bob Lemon frequently stated, “I grew up in West Texas during the dustbowl and the depression, and I’m straight, but I’m not narrow.”

A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Lemon received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Texas and practiced oil and gas law in both Texas and Oklahoma. He was a pilot and a 32nd degree Mason.

Bob married the love of his life, Mary Lou Smith in 1950. They lived in the small town of Perryton, Texas and were very active in their church.

Bob described Mary Lou and himself as unabashed liberal Democrats who believed all people are entitled to both equal protections under the law and universal respect as children of God, particularly regarding sexual orientation. They had five children, Del, Jim, Chrys, Robyn and Eli, “Moque”.

“When I came to Oklahoma for the deadCENTER Film Festival, Bob and I became friends,” said Drew Emery, director of Inlaws & Outlaws. “Bob was really taken with the film’s message that love is neither straight nor gay and decided to get involved in helping us release the film. We had over 600 community screenings of Inlaws & Outlaws, all via our Hearts & Minds Campaign which Bob funded as our Executive Producer.”

During a 2011 interview with The City Sentinel, Lemon recalled, “My wife and I visited a church in Kansas City, MO in 1977, where we heard a woman read a letter from a gay son and she told a sad story.  She and her husband were forced to leave a church that they were members of for sometime.

“In 1993, Mary Lou and I really focused on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) situation when we learned, to our total amazement, that we were the parents of a gay son.  At that point we decided we needed to get acquainted with some gay and lesbian people,” said Lemon.

Former Oklahoma Governor David Walters said, “Bob was a gentleman who was deeply committed to his beliefs, which he acted on at every opportunity. His life reflected his beliefs. Not all of us have the courage, the generosity, the willingness to sacrifice in order to live our lives in a similar manner.”

Jim Roth, former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner and attorney at Philips Murrah said, “I first met Bob Lemon at church where he and his lovely wife Mary Lou sat on the front row.  I always knew Bob to be an extraordinary gentleman, a man of infinite empathy and a moral compass that cared for everyone around him. He was perhaps the finest man I will ever know in my life.”

In 2005, Bob saw the film Inlaws & Outlaws during a screening at the Mayflower Congregational, UCC Church, where he was a member.

“When I came to Oklahoma for the deadCENTER Film Festival, Bob and I became friends,” said Drew Emery, director of Inlaws & Outlaws. “Bob was really taken with the film’s message that love is neither straight nor gay and decided to get involved in helping us release the film. We had over 600 community screenings of Inlaws & Outlaws, all via our Hearts & Minds Campaign which Bob funded as our Executive Producer.”

The documentary, Inlaws & Outlaws won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City.

“This movie is the best shot that I’ve seen that can really influence the minds of some people that, for heaven’s sakes, need to be influenced,” Lemon stated. “They need to be changed, and they need to rethink what they believe about the LGBT community.”

The film is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lou Lemon, who lost her life to cancer in December 2002.

“I believe it was a genuine concern for his fellow human beings that kept Bob going. That and a wicked sharp wit,” said Emery.

In 2005, Lemon and Gov. Walters had their photograph taken with Mikhail Gorbachev, during his lecture tour “Perestroika: 20 Years Later”, at East Central University in Ada, OK.

Gov. Walters recalled, “Bob got a big laugh out of the fact that I signed the photo…”from one comrade to another” alluding to his rather progressive views on most public policy issues. After nearly grabbing Gorbachev for the picture…he began to intently speak to both Bob and I and we listened furtively for whatever pearls of international insight he was sharing with us. We were somewhat disappointed to hear the interpreter translate his words into, ‘Please get out of my way as I wish to leave.’ Bob always had a great sense of humor.”

Director of the OKC Peace House, Nathaniel Batchelder said, “Bob Lemon was simply a grand gentleman gifted with an uncommon humility and reverence for each individual’s life journey. An opponent of America’s wars in the Middle East, Bob drove with me three times to visit ‘Camp Casey’ in Crawford, TX, to join activists in the peace movement. While there, he met Joan Baez, and they became quite good friends.”

Native Oklahoman Amy Wheeler, executive director of Hedgebrook a retreat for women writers, in Washington said, “Bob had a magnetic charisma that people were drawn to. I’ll never forget meeting Joan Baez with Bob, backstage at the Broadway Center in Tacoma. We’d talked our way through the stage door and were waiting with clusters of people, when she emerged from her dressing room. Bob went over to her, arms wide open.  He took her hands, and with that unmistakable Bob Lemon twinkle in his eyes, proceeded to charm the heck out of her.”

Amy’s father, retired Methodist minister Jim Wheeler, said, “Bob was comfortable with both the famous and the unknown for he knew the difference most often lies in their circumstances rather than in their true worth.”

In 2008, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives made the statement that “gays are worse that terrorists.” After that, Bob placed a full-page ad in The Oklahoman newspaper titled “Father of Gay Son Speaks Out.” The ad read in part, “There is no doubt that such speech leads to hate crime and creates an environment of fear in the LGBT community. These officials do not set good examples. The Christian faith, as I understand it, teaches that we should love, honor, and respect one another. It also teaches kindness and tolerance, and teaches against prejudice, hatred, bigotry and violence.”

Dr. Robin Meyers, Senior Minister, Mayflower UCC Church, said, “Bob Lemon was one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever met, having succeeded at everything – the law, being a husband and father, and as one of the nation’s most generous gay rights activists. But by far his most amazing and inspirational accomplishment was simply this: he was a human being fully alive.”

Lemon received numerous awards including the ACLU of Oklahoma Angie Debo Civil Libertarian of the Year Award, Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma’s Margaret Sanger Legacy Award, the Hero of Hope Award from the Cathedral of Hope, the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s Carl Albert Award, the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Lifetime Abolitionist Award, and the VOICE Lifetime Civic Engagement Award. In 2010, Lemon received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Phillips Theological Seminary in Oklahoma.

Scott Hamilton, former Executive Director of Oklahoma City’s Cimarron Alliance said, “Working for social justice in Oklahoma can sometimes seem like climbing a mountain. Even on the most challenging days, Mr. Lemon remained a steadfast supporter of gay rights.”

“Mr. Lemon was the role model of a concerned citizen who knew the incalculable value of America’s Bill of Rights. There can never be enough people like Bob,” said James Nimmo, board member of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

In 2011, the Oklahoma City Council considered a resolution to include “sexual orientation” in the city’s employment non-discrimination policies. 
“I was so incredibly thankful to have Mr. Lemon with us that day,” said Hamilton. “He provided a clear voice of reason, of concern, and compassion for all people.”

In his statement to the council Lemon said, “As I stand here today, I am totally convinced that there is nothing wrong with homosexual people, they’re not broken and they don’t need fixing.  But what does need fixing is the attitude of a lot of straight people with respect to gays.  I pray to God the day will come when people will respect all of God’s children, not just some of them, but all of them.”

In 2013, Bob was the Grand Marshall of the OKC Pride parade, an event close to his heart. He rode with Harold Watson in his familiar red ‘57 T-Bird convertible along with his son Chrys, from Washington D.C. as his daughter Robyn Lemon Sellers walked alongside.

“It was one of the biggest honors of my life to get to make some new friends and get reacquainted with a lot of old ones,” said Lemon. “It was a delightful event.”

Also in 2013, Bob’s generosity allowed the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to establish the Bob Lemon Capital Defense Attorney Scholarships Fund, which provides financial aid for capital defense attorneys to attend national training events that will enhance their professional development in mitigation, habeas appeals, trials, and victim outreach.

Former OK-CADP chair Lydia Polley said, “Our gratitude is beyond words to Bob Lemon and another anonymous donor for funding this endeavor.”

In 2015 Bob was the Grand Marshall of the OKC Martin Luther King Day Parade.

“Bob’s acts of generosity and kindness included extensive advertising support for The City Sentinel newspaper, for which we are eternally grateful,” said its editor and publisher, Patrick B. McGuigan. “Bob understood the vital role of independent community-based journalism in a free society. We came to public policy issues from different perspectives, but our differences faded as he shared his love for Oklahoma and for people in general. We bonded over his love for Oklahoma State University, for family and friends, and his hopeful patriotism.

“Like many others this past weekend, my heart ached as I understood I will never have such talks with him again. I will always cherish memories of those discussions on his porch, in his living room and at the kitchen table, touching on matters great and small. He was a great man, with a good heart and absolute integrity.”

On Sunday, Bob’s son, Eli Grayson made this Facebook post, “The Greatest man I’ve ever known passed away yesterday, he was my center, often times my conscience and a voice in my head for directions. He adopted me with open arms and our beautiful journey began. Feeling a loss of words today, I’m reminded of a Dr. King quote he said to me one evening driving from Perryton, ‘The ultimate tragedy is not oppression and cruelty by the people but the silence over that by the good people.’ One of many life lessons in knowing Bob Lemon.”

Chrys Lemon also wrote on Facebook, “My father, Bob Lemon, 87, died comfortably yesterday in his sleep in Oklahoma City in the same part of the bed where our mother, Mary Lou, died in 2002. My twin sister, Robyn, was with him. Shortly before he married Mama in 1950, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and told he would be lucky to live to 40. When he gave her the option to end the engagement, she said, ‘Let’s just see what happens.’ He showed that eating healthy food, not smoking, exercising, working hard, and treating every individual as a human being can add quality years to your life. He also thought we should be good stewards of our world. And always thinking ahead, he voted absentee before he died.”

Robert Dell Lemon
1929 – 2016

A self-proclaimed unabashed liberal, Bob Lemon was always ready to support the Democratic party. Photo by Darla Shelden

A self-proclaimed unabashed liberal, Bob Lemon was always ready to support the Democratic party. Photo by Darla Shelden

Bob Lemon (left) and his son Eli Grayson. Eli Grayson Facebook Photo

Bob Lemon (left) and his son Eli Grayson stand in front of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. right after its opening in 2011. Eli Grayson Facebook Photo

L-R) Bob Lemon, ‘Inlaws & Outlaws’ director Drew Emery and Bob’s son, Chrys Lemon at a West Hollywood film screening. Photo credit: True Stories Project

(L-R) Bob Lemon, ‘Inlaws & Outlaws’ director Drew Emery, and Bob’s son, Chrys Lemon at a West Hollywood film screening. Photo credit: True Stories Project

ob Lemon and his beloved wife, Mary Lou Lemon. Photo provided by Robyn Lemon Sellers

Bob Lemon and his beloved wife, Mary Lou Lemon. Photo provided by Robyn Lemon Sellers

 

 

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