Oklahoma Bar Journal

OBA Ethics Award Namesake was a ‘Lawyer’s Lawyer’

By Bob Burke

In 2006, a new entrance to the Oklahoma Bar Center in Oklahoma City was dedicated to honor John Shipp’s impact upon the legal profession in Oklahoma and his high ethical standards. The plaza contains a lighted water feature and a bronze plaque with a relief of John.

The OBA Ethics Award is named for the late John Shipp of Idabel. It may be an overused expression, but John was truly “a lawyer’s lawyer.” His integrity was unquestioned. He was a role model for professionalism. His reverence for the Rule of Law was undisputed.

When I graduated from law school and returned to Broken Bow in 1979, John was the leader of the 12 lawyers in McCurtain County and the uncrowned king of barristers and judges in neighboring Choctaw and Pushmataha counties. When I had questions about procedure or local rules, the judges told me to ask John. I did. He would stop what he was doing and sit with me in the courtroom and take me, step by step, through a case. His teaching was both practical and ethical. His friendliness and dignity were contagious.

We formed the Tri-County Bar Association, and John provided the meeting place – his cabin at the end of a very rough road on Mohawk Lake near Idabel. Any time we had a function, John invited Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges. We ate good and told stories into the wee morning hours. As the youngest lawyer in the three counties, I was assigned to monitor the Idabel Airport and ferry justices such as Marian Opala, Ralph Hodges and Rudy Hargrave to Mohawk Lake.

The Shipps were one of the most prominent families in McCurtain County. John’s mother, Martha, descended from the Dierks brothers who came to the area shortly after the turn of the 20th century to establish a major forestry company, later purchased by Weyerhaeuser. John’s father, Ed Shipp, was county attorney and became president of the Idabel National Bank.

John was co-valedictorian of his high school class in 1960. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and received his J.D. from the OU College of Law in 1965. He returned to Idabel to practice law. He later was chairman of the board of the family bank.

John served the OBA in so many ways. He was a member of the OBA Board of Governors and was OBA president in 1985. He served two terms on the OBA Professional Responsibility Commission and was chief master of the Professional Responsibility Tribunal. He was also a member of the board of directors of both the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Oklahoma Heritage Association.

After 31 years of private practice, John looked for a new challenge and became executive director of the OBA on Jan. 1, 1998. Frankly, John did not need to work, but he truly enjoyed his position with the OBA. He knew so many judges and lawyers around the state. He saw the executive director’s job as an opportunity for him to give back to the legal profession.

John’s wife, “Barty,” wanted to maintain their home in Idabel so she and John often flew their twin-engine Beechcraft between Idabel and Norman. On Dec. 6, 1998, John was flying alone. An experienced pilot, he began an instrument approach to Max Westheimer Airport in Norman. A cold front dropped the temperature seven degrees in a matter of minutes as the control tower lost contact with John. Wind shear or something bad caused the plane to crash. John was killed. He was 56 years old.

Bob Burke practices in Oklahoma City. He is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and has written 154 historical nonfiction books.



Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 95 Vol 6 (August 2023)

Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.