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REMEMBERING INHOFE: Look back at the former senator's legacy

REMEMBERING INHOFE Look back at the former senators legacy
Sources close to the family say Jim Inhofe died at 89. He was a long serving senator for Tulsa.

TULSA, Okla. — Former United States Senator Jim Inhofe died at the age of 89.

A former aide said he had a sudden, unexpected illness over the holiday and passed at 4:48 a.m. on July 9.

He passed peacefully with his wife Kay holding his hand, surrounded by his kids Molly, Jimmy, and Katy. His son Perry died in a plane crash in 2013.


Inhofe served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for three years and later in the Oklahoma State Senate for another eight years. He unsuccessfully ran for governor and Congress before successfully serving three terms as mayor of Tulsa.

He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987-1994, resigned, and served in the U.S. Senatefrom 1994-2023 before retiring.

WATCH: Sen. Inhofe gives farewell speech to Senate:

Sen. Jim Inhofe gives farewell speech to fellow senators

He helped secure millions for the environmental cleanup of the Tar Creek Superfund Site in Picher.

Inhofe was also one of the most outspoken critics of climate change, famously calling it a “hoax” and throwing a snowball in the Senate chamber.

However, he would partner with environmental adversaries, like Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, on issues like roads and infrastructure.

Inhofe also went against Republican colleagues during his last term by refusing to delay the certification of the 2020 election.

SEE MORE: Inhofe through the years


Inhofe was born in Iowa in 1934 and moved to Tulsa with his family in 1942.

He grew up here, attended Central High School, and later graduated from the University of Tulsa.

An accomplished pilot, Inhofe would fly himself to Washington. He got his pilot's license at 28 and remained an active pilot most of his life.

Inhofe married Kay Kirkpatrick in 1959 and had four children.

He served in the army for three years, then started a career at his father's insurance company before starting his political career.

He was known for his passions. Among those are veterans affairs, infrastructure as well as aviation.

2 News talked with Shawn Kirkland, the Deputy Director of the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs. He said the department was fond of Inhofe and his office and often referred to him for support.

"I hope the future generations get to know what he did for the state of Oklahoma and for military veterans across the country during his assignment in public service," said Kirkland.


Long before Inhofe headed to Washington, D.C., he was mayor of Tulsa.

Current Mayor GT Bynum sums up his tenure this way, “He’s regarded as one of the most effective mayor’s in the history of the City.”

In that role, he's remembered for creating Tulsa's first third-penny sales tax, which has funded billions in street and infrastructure enhancements over the last half-century.

"If you've seen street improvements," said Bynum. "If you saw any sewer or water line improvements, park improvements, those were because of the third-penny sales tax."

Inhofe modernized Tulsa's trash collection system by moving it from numerous independent haulers to one system across the entire city.

He's also credited with setting up the sister city program, which now boasts partnerships between cities on every continent except Antarctica.

He did a lot for the Tulsa aviation community, even being an instrumental part in getting an F14A Tomcat to be displayed in the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.

"I was deeply saddened; we see his impact throughout Tulsa and throughout the state everywhere. And that’s what it reminded me of. So we felt his impact here, and you know now it’s his legacy here at our museum, and so, we are sad to hear that he left us, but he was also happy for everything he was able to do for our state and for our museum," said TASM Curator Alex London.


U.S. Representative Kevin Hern called Inhofe a mentor.

“Senator Jim Inhofe was a dear friend and mentor, a titan in Oklahoma, and a highly effective leader in DC. Tammy and I are keeping Kay and the rest of the Inhofe family in our prayers. Jim spent his life in service to his country, both in uniform and in the halls of Congress. He will always be remembered as a fighter, especially for our military service members. Jim’s legacy of service, leadership, and faith reflect the Oklahoma Standard and the pride he held in his work. Along with the family, friends, and many Oklahomans who knew and loved him, I mourn the loss of a great man.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered flags on state property at half-staff in his honor.

"Sarah and I are saddened by the news of the passing of Senator Inhofe and our hearts go out to Kay, their children and grandchildren. Jim was a generational Oklahoman who relentlessly championed our veterans, never wavered in protecting our values, and a firm believer in the American Dream. Jim will be remembered as a true statesman and public servant— and a fighter for Oklahoma.

In honor of his memory and service, I'm ordering all flags on state property to be flown at half-staff until tomorrow evening."

Mike Neal, president of the Tulsa Regional Chamber highlighted some of Inhofe's impact on Tulsa and the state.

“The Tulsa Regional Chamber mourns the death of former U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, who spent his entire professional career seeking to enrich the lives of Oklahomans. As a former Tulsa mayor, Congressman and the longest-serving U.S. senator from Oklahoma, Inhofe was the consummate public servant, unafraid to advocate for his constituents, particularly in the areas of transportation, infrastructure and the armed services.

We are especially grateful to the former senator for several recent wins, including full funding of the Tulsa/West Tulsa Levees, a longtime priority within the Chamber’s OneVoice Regional Legislative Agenda. He also led the effort to designate U.S. Highway 412 as an interstate, and he oversaw reforms to help address the maintenance backlog of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

The breadth of Senator Inhofe’s impact on Oklahoma and the members of its business community is immeasurable. We applaud his commitment to our great state and offer our condolences to Kay and his wonderful family.”

Mayor GT Bynum said this about Inhofe:

“While his tenure as the longest-serving United States Senator in Oklahoma history reserves his rightful place in the record books, Jim Inhofe was also one of Tulsa’s most accomplished mayors. He created the first city sales tax for capital improvements - the Third Penny - which has funded billions in street and infrastructure enhancements over the last half century. He modernized our trash system, established our 9-1-1 call system, and created our Sister Cities program that went on to build cultural ties between our city and nearly every continent around the world. My thoughts today are with Kay and the entire extended Inhofe family.”

Fellow Senator James Lankford called him a true legend.

Cindy and I are deeply saddened about the loss of Oklahoma’s favorite son, Senator Jim Inhofe. We grieve along with our state and nation the loss of a true patriot for our American values and way of life. Jim was an institution in the Senate. He kept his relationship with Jesus, his family, and all Oklahomans as his priority. His passion for our military, aviation, energy, infrastructure, Africa, and our personal freedom was vital for our state and our nation. He was a true legend and a force to be reckoned with.

Cindy and I pray along with his wife, Kay, their children, grandchildren, friends, and fellow Oklahomans for peace and comfort as they walk through this difficult season.

Senator Markwayne Mullin gave a speech on the U.S. Senate floor to honor Inhofe

Oklahoma Department of Transportation Tim Gatz said ODOT will name the new I-40/Douglas interchange in his honor.

No one cared more deeply for Oklahomans and for our nation than Senator Inhofe. The department is grateful for his dedication and contributions to infrastructure while making certain Oklahoma was receiving its fair share of the federal transportation programs. We are well positioned for the future because of his efforts. He and his legacy will be dearly remembered and he will be absolutely missed. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation will keep the Senator’s family in our thoughts and prayers.

For many years Senator Inhofe served as chairman and ranking member of the Environment and Public Works committee and worked to craft major pieces of transportation and infrastructure legislation that benefited all corners of the state. He was key in creating and securing large funding packages across multiple administrations. Most recently, he helped ODOT receive a BUILD grant to replace the Bridgeport Bridge on US-281/Route 66 prior to the celebration of the Mother Road. In 2022, work began on the more than $170 million I-40/Douglas interchange, to be complete in 2025, which the Oklahoma Legislature named 'The U.S. Senator James Inhofe Interchange,’ in his honor.

University of Tulsa President Brad Carson honored the alumnus.

“Our hearts go out to the Inhofe family. I served alongside Jim in Washington and know he was committed to a prosperous state, a sound economy, and a strong military. As a TU alumnus, he was equally dedicated to the university and its mission as a top research institution.”

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