Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation

Thomas Jefferson Riddle Jr.

Born: 1/12/1929

Died: 11/15/2008

Maiden Name: n/a

Honorific: n/a

Thomas Jefferson Riddle Jr. of Edmond passed away November 12, 2008. He was born January 12, 1929, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Jefferson Riddle Sr. and Barbara Coax Riddle.

The family moved to Oklahoma City in 1930, where Tom attended Foster and Capitol Hill High Schools, graduating in 1949 from Central High School after his military service. He served his country with honor in the U.S. Merchant Marine, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He led a remarkable, courageous, and adventurous life, including witnessing the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll, and assisting in quelling the infamous prison break and subsequent riot known as The Battle of Alcatraz in 1946. He boxed in Golden Gloves and was the welterweight boxing champion of the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet. He was also a local blues singer known among Oklahoma City blues musicians as South Dallas.

He then began a 28-year career as a firefighter, serving in the Midwest City and Tinker Fire Departments before joining the Oklahoma City Fire Department in July of 1951. He retired June 30, 1978. As a young firefighter, Tom saw a good friend and fellow firefighter severely injured while fighting a fire. The injured man was not allowed to seek medical attention until his shift was over the next morning. Gangrene set in due to lack of prompt medical attention and the injured firefighter’s leg was amputated. This experience inspired Tom to take action in support of his fellow firefighters. His life’s work and passion was to fight for employee dignity, fair wages and benefits, and job-site justice for firefighters in the public sector. A pioneer is one who, with no guarantee of success, leads with courage and conviction, convincing others to follow into uncharted territory. Tom Riddle was a pioneer who led Oklahoma City and Oklahoma state firefighters into the new arena of collective bargaining.

Among his achievements he was a charter member of the International Association of Firefighters Local #157 (formerly #1524) - 1964; and helped to pass legislation providing Worker’s Compensation benefits to firefighters. Prior to this, Oklahoma firefighters who routinely put their lives on the line for the good of the public had no state on-the-job injury or death benefits; helped to pass legislation in 1971 establishing the Fire and Police Collective Bargaining Act, which guaranteed firefighters the right to bargain with their municipality regarding wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment. Under this new act, he conducted negotiations for the first contract between firefighters and the City of Oklahoma City. He served as president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local #157 (Oklahoma City) 1971-1976; served two terms as president of the Professional Firefighters of Oklahoma, an association of 73 firefighter local unions from all over the state. He also established the first successful Affirmative Action program for firefighters within the United States.

As an independent labor consultant, he negotiated for numerous Oklahoma firefighter local unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal employees, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodges, the International Union of Police Associations, the Allied Paint and Trades Councils, the Office and Professional Employees Internation, OKC Principals’ Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. He negotiated and arbitrated contracts between the respective cities and International Association of Firefighters’ locals in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Mexico. As advocate, he fought and won the Oklahoma City Firefighters’ first arbitration case with the City; fought and won the first reinstatement of a wrongly discharged firefighter through the process of binding arbitration in Oklahoma. He participated in writing the firefighter overtime requirements which were included for the first time in the Fair Labor Standards Act of the United States Department of Labor; Oklahoma AFL-CIO Executive Board member and parliamentarian for eight years; served as secretary-treasurer of the Oklahoma County Democrat Party; and was an Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area United Way trustee. He represented Oklahoma firefighters in more than 1,000 arbitration cases as their official advocate. Tom was also inducted into the Oklahoma Labor Hall of Fame in 2003.

Tom was the son of an original enrollee of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. He married Winona Dee Hodel Henderson on February 11, 1966. He was a member of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church of Edmond.

He was preceded in death by his parents and a daughter, Paige.

Survivors include his wife; four children, Sherri Henderson, Tamlyn Jordan and husband Matthew, Robin Riddle and Thomas Jefferson Riddle III and wife Ashley; five grandchildren, Patrick Delaney, Nicholas Snodgrass, Sydney Riddle, Shaun Stephenson and Zachary Jordan; brother, Peter Riddle and wife Barbara of Lincoln, California; and nephew, Jerry Riddle and wife Michelle Shipley of Los Angeles, California.