Gaylene Flanary McCallum, Bartlesville
Gaylene Flanary McCallum’s signature smile and hardy laugh are big and genuine and inviting. Upon first impression, one might think she’s led an ordinary life, and she is just another lawyer. But that could not be further from the truth. She is an extraordinary person who has an uncommon ability to handle life’s unexpected changes. “Change Happens,” has grown to be her motto over her lifetime. Of course, change happens to all of us, but Gaylene’s journey has had more than the usual twists and turns, ups and downs. Gaylene has a wonderfully unique attitude toward change, especially toward the unexpected changes life sometimes hands out.
Helping others, especially those who cannot help themselves, is her true passion in life, and practicing law is but one of the many ways she does that. She gives quietly and without fanfare or recognition.
In 1946, K.J. Flanary was a young MP in the U.S. Army at Ft. Sill. On a cool autumn day in November 1946, he was called out to respond to a report relating to an infant child being left alone for days at time. When Flanary got there he found a two-month-old baby girl, filthy and extremely malnourished. He took the infant directly to the local judge so he could see the child for himself. Flanary was immediately given temporary custody of the baby until the child’s mother was located. Two days passed before the mother was found. And on the day she showed up, the woman relinquished her parental rights, and for a fee of $5, a local lawyer drew up the adoption documents, and Gaylene Flanary became the daughter of K.J. and Dot Flanary.
Gaylene was raised as an “Army brat” — a term she carries with honor — moving frequently and living all over the world until her mother decided, “Gaylene is going to only one high school.” Her father, a helicopter pilot, took a job as a flight commander at Fort Walters Helicopter School in Mineral Wells, Texas, where Gaylene graduated from high school at age 16.
Gaylene went to the University of Texas in Arlington but went home each weekend so her father could teach her to fly airplanes. By the time she turned 18, she’d earned her private pilot’s license. She graduated with a degree in public administration, hoping to eventually become an airport manager. Shortly thereafter, Gaylene and her new husband, Norman McCallum, moved to St. Louis where she worked for Gray and Stewart, Attorneys at Law. After living there a couple of years, she and her husband moved back to Texas where Gaylene went into business with her father. Armed with commercial, rotorcraft, multi-engine and flight instructor ratings, Gaylene joined her father at Flanary Flying Service, a flight service and training school, focusing on teaching Vietnam veterans who had come back from the war with helicopter ratings how to fly fixed-wing airplanes. They also had a charter service, a jump club, did aerial inspections of power and pipe lines, took aerial photos for real estate companies and when necessity arose, picked up and transported dead bodies.
A CHANGE IN PLANS
Being a pilot was her first passion, and she loved it. However, after a few years, she began having problems when flying into unfamiliar airports. It terrified her. She couldn’t hear flight control and she didn’t know why. Shortly thereafter, in her late 20s, she was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss as result of nerve damage to the otic nerve due to a childhood illness. Upon the realization her hearing would continue to deteriorate, and eventually leave her ‘legally deaf,’ she knew she could no longer safely pilot an airplane, and along with that came the gradual end of Flanary Flying Services. It was an unexpected and disappointing change, but it wouldn’t stop Gaylene.
She and her husband moved to Dallas, where Gaylene worked in property management and real estate. This is when Gaylene decided she wanted to go to law school. Upon application, she was accepted to SMU School of Law; however, as sometimes happens in life, she came to a fork in the road. Just weeks before the start of school, she learned she was pregnant with her first child, Kenneth. Motherhood called, so law school would have to wait — at least temporarily. After the birth of her son, she reapplied at SMU and was again accepted. Ready to walk that path again, she learned she was pregnant with her second son, Kyle. And when her husband’s job transferred him to Bartlesville, they moved. Another unexpected change in plans, her dreams of law school became a thing of the past (at least that’s what she thought at the time).
Her hearing loss continued to worsen, and she hated it. She’d already lost her cherished career as a pilot, missed a chance to go to law school and now was in an unfamiliar city. In the beginning, due to her worsening hearing loss, she was apprehensive about going out to unfamiliar places and didn’t even go shopping without a shopping buddy. She was “just so afraid of being deaf” it almost stopped her. But that was not “Gaylene.”
While in Bartlesville, Gaylene enjoyed working as a stay-at-home mom to Kenneth and Kyle, but as they grew older, she began doing some temporary contract work for Phillips Petroleum, while attending the University of Tulsa where she graduated with her M.S. in applied mathematics.
Then life handed her another major change; after 23 years of marriage, she divorced. She was now a single mom raising two boys on her own, with no solid plans for the future. As Gaylene put it, “Middle-age divorce was a blow to my ego, and I knew I just needed to do something that made me feel good about myself, and that would make my boys proud of me.” So, she packed up her two teenagers, and back to school she went, this time to the University of Oklahoma where she got an MBA. Immediately after graduate school, she applied and was accepted to OU College of Law, walking the path she thought had been closed to her years before. As a bonus, Gaylene was surprised when, even though she had not applied for it, she was awarded the United Handicap Workers of America Scholarship, not only because of her verified handicap, but also because of her exemplary grades and her history of serving the Norman community.
Being deaf made law school hard for her. Even though the United Handicap Workers of America provided her with a loop system to assist her, most of the professors were reluctant, or just refused, to wear the required microphone. At the end of her first semester, one professor said to her, “I’m surprised; you really are quite bright,” to which she replied, “I don’t hear; I’m not stupid.”
And then something happened that again changed the course of her life. She met fellow law school student, Curtis DeLapp (who is now the Washington County district judge). Gaylene struggled to hear the lectures in class, making note-taking impossible. She noticed that Curtis would take meticulous and extensive notes, so Gaylene offered to type them for him. According to Gaylene, “They both ended up with a great set of notes.” It was a symbiotic relationship that continues as a life-long friendship. They both re-ceived their J.D. degrees in 1991.
Being deaf, a single mom and struggling through law school did not stop her from serving others. While in school, she served on the board of Oklahoma Women in Law, was on the Moot Court Committee and volunteered as an intern at the pro bono clinic.
Gaylene persevered through law school remembering the advice she received from her friend and Bartlesville lawyer, Jerry Pierce: “Make sure you come out of law school as a lawyer who just happens to be deaf, not as the ‘deaf’ lawyer.”
Becoming a lawyer was the fulfillment of Gaylene’s second passion in life. She practiced in Norman a couple of years, but when her father was diagnosed with dementia and her mom became blind, she moved them with her to Hugo – just what the doctor ordered for her father: a small town. Soon afterward, her son Kyle relocated there also. Gaylene opened a law practice in Hugo in 1994 and hired Kyle as her part-time investigator. Gaylene continued to care for her parents until their deaths, focusing her practice on providing legal services for the poor and “those who fall through the cracks.”
MORE BUMPS IN THE ROAD
Gaylene’s life took another detour in 1999 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. But, Gaylene would not let this ‘bump in the road’ prevent her from doing what she loved. She continued to practice law and serve her clients. As a bonus, Kyle decided to go to law school, and upon graduating, returned to Hugo and joined his mother’s law practice. Everything was “normal” for seven or eight years.
Then in 2008, Gaylene had a devastating car accident that left her with two shattered vertebrae in her neck and back. It was debilitating, and she couldn’t practice law. After a couple of years, with medical expenses adding up and little income coming in, Gaylene left her law practice in the good hands of her son and moved back to Bartlesville to live with her cousin, with the dwindling hope of ever practicing law again. She couldn’t walk, had no money and no career. But ‘giving up’ is not in her nature, and she well knows how to handle unexpected change. Struggling through months of treatment and rehabilitation, Gaylene’s passion for her clients and determination to serve others again drew her back into the practice of law. She opened a small law office in Bartlesville where she began to work a few days a week. Eventually she was able to spend some time in her Hugo office, practicing law with her son again. Today, she is practicing part-time in both law offices.
Gaylene is a giver. She is a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Among those who call her “lawyer,” “counselor” and “friend” are victims of domestic violence, children and the poor. She provided free legal services for victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and served as a volunteer lawyer for Spirit of Hope, a Native American tribal coalition devoted strictly to provide pro bono services to Native American women who are victims of domestic violence. During the course of her service at Spirit of Hope, Gaylene lost clients and their children to death at the hands of their abuser, and it continues to affect her perception of domestic abuse and her determination to serve those subject to it. Gaylene serves as a volunteer lawyer for the OBA Lawyers for America’s Heroes program and gives free legal information and advice to participants in a local organization, Bridges Out of Poverty.
Her current “passion” is serving children. She provides numerous hours of pro bono services to the Washington County District Court serving as attorney and guardian ad litem representing children in adoption, juvenile deprived and child custody cases. She serves on the board and is an integral part of the Washington County School Supply Drive (Pack a Backpack). Among her other duties with the organization, she takes off work five days every year to help with the packing and distribution of the more than 2,500 backpacks that are provided to impoverished children in the Bartlesville area. Working with her son Kyle, Gaylene is establishing a counseling service in Hugo, focusing on the needs of children (at little or no cost to the family, of course). While still in its infancy, it’s another project that occupies her time and attention.
Judge DeLapp says of his friend Gaylene, “We began law school together in the fall of 1988, and I have been impressed by her every day since. Gaylene was always prepared to argue her convictions regarding the law and its application when confronted by law school professors or other law students. She carried those convictions into private practice and has represented her clients in numerous counties before numerous judges. Gaylene is passionate about protecting her clients’ rights and is always the first to step up and take a case pro bono when asked by the court. While she is serious about the law, she does not take herself too seriously and has a great sense of humor that still keeps me laughing. Some of my fondest memories of law school involve my friendship with Gaylene. Over the last 25 years, I have always been able to pick up the phone and call her when I need to laugh or have someone give me frank, honest advice. A practice that I know will continue in the future.”
Gaylene does not think of herself as handicapped, and neither do those around her.
“Being hard of hearing is just one tiny part of me,” she said. “I’d hate for anyone to take that as defining me. I don’t want to be anyone’s role model — I have so many flaws.”
She adds, with a sheepish grin, “It seems I’m always in trouble with someone.”
“Obviously, I will never be a rich lawyer,” says Gaylene with that signature smile and laugh of hers. “I’m old, and I have expenses, but some things other lawyers are concerned about, I’m not. I don’t have much money, but I can donate my time to community service.”
Gaylene isn’t quite sure if she will “retire” as a lawyer. She says, “You never know what’s out there. I just still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m 67 years old and not sure this is what I want to do the rest of my life. I may end up running a grocery store. I don’t know if this is my last career, but I do know I’ll be working ’til they cart me off.”
Gaylene is not a prideful person, except when it comes to her sons, Kenneth and Kyle. She says she couldn’t be prouder of them and feels honored that when choosing their life careers they followed her two passions: law and aviation. Both of her boys continue to live in Hugo, where Kyle practices law and Kenneth is an avionics engineer
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Nov. 2, 2013 -- Vol. 84, No. 28