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The Man With the Monumental Hands



The Most Massive Depiction Of A Living Oklahoman Is Not The Statue Of Olympian Shannon Miller In Edmond Or The Johnny Bench Bronze Outside The Redhawks’ Ballpark In Oklahoma City. It is not Weatherford’s tribute to hometown astronaut Thomas P. Stafford or Norman’s quintet of Heisman winners, forever frozen in mid-play.

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The statue was created in the flames of a Mexican foundry, transported to Tulsa in a long convoy of tractor-trailers. It weighs 30 tons, and stands as tall as the head of George Washington on Mount Rushmore.

The model for the work, unbeknownst even to many of his friends, may be the most famous Oklahoman you’ve never heard of: Gary Mitchell.

He was born May 19, 1952, in Oklahoma City, and grew up in the Venice neighborhood near N.W. 36th Street and May Avenue. He graduated from Northwest Classen High School and Oklahoma State, and attended grad school at the University of Oklahoma. By his mid-20s, he was a licensed clinical social worker, living in North Carolina and working at Duke University. Come the holidays, he would head west and return home to see family and friends.

His childhood friend Mike McMurry lived three blocks away. Home from Duke for Christmas, Mitchell dropped by and was welcomed by Mike’s father.

Leonard McMurry – then nearly 70 and hailed as “Oklahoma’s Michelangelo” – grabbed Mitchell’s hands to study them, front and back. He was thrilled. “These are perfect!”

McMurry was beginning work on a new sculpture commissioned by evangelist Oral Roberts for the planned City of Faith medical complex. It would be McMurry’s largest piece yet, 60 feet tall and 60,000 pounds. He sketched and photographed the hands of Gary Mitchell, explaining why they were exactly right: powerful and nicely veined, with long, tapered fingers that would seem the right proportions when viewed at a distance and from six stories below. Mitchell was happy to oblige.

Gary Mitchell

Though often referred to as the praying hands, Roberts christened the work “The Healing Hands.” His concept: depict two forces joining together: one hand to represent the healing power of medicine, the other to symbolize the power of faith.

A 10-man crew worked three months to assemble and weld the pieces in Tulsa. The massive palms are shown just making contact, the 20-foot-long fingers barely touching. Soon after their dedication, a reporter described the result: “So true to life are the hands showing lines, veins and muscles, that it wouldn’t be startling to see a pulse beating in the wrists.”

After nearly a decade installed as the symbol of the City of Faith, the sculpture’s future was in doubt when the hospital complex closed its doors in 1989. Two years later, Roberts announced that the hands would anchor the new entrance of his nearby school. He called them “the signature for our university and ministry, symbolizing the merging of our human efforts with those supernatural works of God.”

As the light shifts from dawn to dusk and back, the hands reflect the moods of the ever-changing Oklahoma sky, morphing from an orange glow to dull mustard to brown, sometimes with a coppery green patina at the welding seams. A parking lot to the right of the statue hosts a steady stream of vehicles: school buses, church vans, cars with new members of Oral Roberts University’s 50th entering freshman class and Route 66 road trippers posing for their been-there-done-that shot beneath the massive hands.

Mitchell is ambivalent about being memorialized in bronze for perpetuity. Raised Episcopalian, he is a modest and thoughtful man who considers himself more spiritual than religious, more progressive than conservative. Divorced once, and nearing retirement, he has moved to a tidy house on a golf course in Broken Arrow.

When I stopped by to chat, he was finishing lunch in the clubhouse with a longtime golfing buddy: Ralph Fagin, past interim president of Oral Roberts University.

Does Dr. Fagin know of his secret identity?

Gary Mitchell smiled. He lifted his hands, which still look remarkably similar to the 60-foot depiction.

“Yes, I told him. He thinks it’s great.”

What do you think?

The anonymous celebrity smiled, still pondering.

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Editor’s Note: This installment is part of author M.J. Alexander’s “77 Counties” series, chronicling her travels across Oklahoma. The full series is available at sliceok.com/travel/

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Calendar

September 2018

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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

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This year will mark the eighth time the John F. Kennedy Awards have been celebrated, honoring individuals making a significant contribution to Oklahoma, its communities and its people, while paying...

Cost: $300

Where:
Skirvin Hilton Hotel
1 Park Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Santa Fe Family Life Center
Telephone: 405-840-1817
Contact Name: James Timberlake
Website »

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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

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Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

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A fabulous art auction to raise money to help support Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO.

Cost: $100

Where:
CHK|Central Boathouse
732 Riversport Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO
Telephone: 405.974.3791
Contact Name: Heather Bryant
Website »

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The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

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Join supporters in communities across the nation for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This family-friendly event raises funds to support the...

Cost: $10 for adults or children six and older

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S. Lake Hefner Drive
Oklahoma City , OK  73116
View map »


Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

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Let’s end childhood cancer. Together! This September, supporters across the country will unite to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, an exciting, family-friendly...

Cost: $10 for Registration

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: ALSAC St. Jude Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

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