Former Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren was remembered Tuesday as an “extraordinary human being” during funeral services that drew together Oklahoma’s political elite as well as the legendary football coaches and players who trained with Mildren at the University of Oklahoma.
Hundreds of mourners, including former OU coaches Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer and dozens of Mildren’s former OU teammates, packed into the McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church for Mildren’s funeral 36 years after Mildren and his wife, Janis, were married in the same chapel.
Mildren, who died on Thursday from complications of stomach cancer at the age of 58, was an All-American quarterback for the Sooners in 1971 and was the first of OU’s wishbone quarterbacks under Fairbanks.
“Jack was the perfect college athlete,” Fairbanks said. He said Mildren had great athletic ability and was a tough-minded leader, competitor and student.
“He was a team-oriented player,” never seeking credit for his own accomplishments but always crediting those around him, Fairbanks said.
After a record-setting sophomore year, the Sooners got off to a sluggish start during Mildren’s junior year in 1970, prompting Fairbanks to switch to the wishbone offense. The Sooners racked up 5,196 yards on 813 rushes the following season, finishing 11-1 by defeating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma’s only loss came in the so-called “Game of the Century,” when top-ranked Nebraska beat the No. 2 Sooners 35-31 despite four touchdowns from Mildren — two rushing and two passing.
Mildren completed the season with 1,289 yards rushing — the most in school history for a quarterback — and 20 touchdowns before being drafted by the Baltimore Colts. Fairbanks said the last time he saw Mildren was two years ago after he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.
“He told me about his illness. He said: ‘We’ll be able to win. We’ll be able to be successful,”’ Fairbanks said. “Jack touched my life deeply,” he added, describing Mildren as an “extraordinary human being. I will miss him sorely,” he said.
Mildren came to Oklahoma from Abilene, Texas, where he set passing records at Cooper High School. Rusty Kelly, who grew up near Mildren’s hometown and competed with him in high school athletic competitions, said he once asked Mildren if he regretted choosing OU over the University of Texas.
“Not a single time. I loved playing football for OU,” Kelly said Mildren responded.
Mildren was eulogized by his younger brothers, Richard and Glynne, who described him as a devoted son, brother, husband and father.
“He was an inspiration to all of us,” Richard Mildren said. “He gave us strength in times of trouble. He was always by our side.”
Glynne Mildren said his oldest brother taught him his work ethic: “Be fair, be honest and work hard.”
Page 2 of 2 - “He was always there for me, no matter what,” Glynne Mildren said.
Oklahoma’s top political leaders attended Mildren’s funeral, including Gov. Brad Henry and first lady Kim Henry, former Gov. David Walters, elected at the same time Mildren was elected lieutenant governor in 1990, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, U.S. Rep. and former Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
“The state of Oklahoma hangs its head today at the loss of Jack Mildren,” said The Rev. Adrian E. Cole of the New Covenant United Methodist Church in Edmond.
Mildren ran for governor as a Democrat in 1994, losing in the general election to Republican Frank Keating. At the time of his death, he was executive vice president of Arvest Bank and the co-host of a local sports radio talk show.