Monday, October 11, 2010

War Hero, Justice Marian Opala Dead At 89

Justice Opala takes his first oath of office.
Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala has died. The highly-respected jurist was 89.

Justice Opala died at 1:23 a.m. at Oklahoma City's Integris Baptist Hospital. Officials said he was found unconscious Saturday in his home by Warr Acres police after not responding to telephone calls and knocks on the door; he apparently had suffered a stroke. He underwent surgery early Sunday morning.

Services will be at the All Souls Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City at a time to be announced.

Governor Henry said, “With the passing of Justice Marian Opala, Oklahoma has lost a judicial giant. During his many decades of service to this state, Justice Opala was always a consummate professional and a dedicated jurist. With his hard work, legal expertise and passion for the law and public service, Marian Opala helped make Oklahoma a far better place than it was when he first arrived here as an immigrant many years ago.

“We are saddened by Justice Opala’s passing and will miss him very much, but we will never forget his lifetime of service or his love of this great state. Our thoughts and prayers are with Justice Opala’s family and his many friends.”

House Speaker Chris Benge said, “Justice Opala’s life proved the continuing reality of the American Dream. As an immigrant to the United States, he rose to the highest ranks of our legal profession. That he did so in Oklahoma is a source of great pride for our state. From his days fighting Nazis as part of the Polish underground to his work on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Justice Opala’s life was committed to justice. He was a remarkable man who leaves a remarkable legacy.”

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said, “I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Justice Marian Opala. He epitomizes the very best of public service, representing our state’s highest court with tremendous dignity and professionalism. I know many people are surprised when they learn the polite and friendly juror with a wonderful sense of humor was a part of the Polish Underground in World War II fighting for freedom.

“When he immigrated to the United States, through hard work and perseverance Marian Opala earned his second law degree at Oklahoma City University so that he could continue in the legal profession in this country. For more than three decades he worked for the people of Oklahoma as a wise and thoughtful member of the State Supreme Court. Justice Opala will be greatly missed, but his honor, heroism and dedication will serve as an enduring legacy.”

Opala was born in Łódź, Poland, the son of a prominent banker. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Opala, then a university student, enlisted in the Polish Army, and following Poland's defeat by Nazi Germany, joined the Polish Underground. In 1941 he escaped Poland via Turkey on the orders of his superiors in order to meet with Polish troops enlisted in the British Army in Palestine and Ethiopia to assure them that the struggle against the Nazi occupation was being waged vigorously at home with strong Allied support. After completing his mission, he served briefly with Polish troops in Italy and then parachuted back into Poland to resume his duties with the Underground.

In 1944 Opala was captured by German forces in the Warsaw Uprising and held in Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. After his liberation by the U.S. Army in 1945, he was befriended by Gene Warr, a captain in the 45th Infantry Division from Oklahoma City. Opala confided in Warr that he could not return to Poland after the Communist takeover and would probably settle somewhere in the British Commonwealth.

Captain Warr helped him get a job as a translator for U.S. forces in Occupied Germany, and suggested he emigrate to the United States, and offered to help him. Opala settled in Oklahoma City in 1947. Six years later, he became a United States citizen. He graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law and later obtained a master's degree from New York University Law School.

Opala served as Administrative Director of the Oklahoma State court system from 1968 to 1977. He became a judge on what is now Oklahoma's Worker's Compensation Court in 1977 before being appointed to the state Supreme Court the following year.

He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2000, and Freedom of Information, Inc., of Oklahoma, established the Marian Opala Award in 2002.

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