Marian P. Opala, a Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court since 1978, died on Monday, October 11, 2010, at Integris Baptist Hospital, Oklahoma City after suffering a stroke. He was 89 years old, and a longtime resident of Warr Acres. Justice Opala was born in Lodz, Poland in 1921, and when World War II began in 1939 with the German Invasion of his country, Opala was an 18 year old law student at the University of Warsaw. During the war, Opala joined the Polish Home Army, and later served as an infantryman and interpreter in the British Army-Polish Forces in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, England, and Poland. Opala was captured during the Battle of Warsaw in 1944, and subsequently interned by the German Army in a Prisoner-Of-War Camp in Bavaria. Shortly after American forces liberated the camp in the spring of 1945, he met U.S. Army Captain Gene Warr of Oklahoma City, who was a member of the 45th Infantry Division, and the son of real estate developer C.B. Warr. Opala and Warr quickly developed a strong friendship which both described as something more akin to brotherhood. This relationship eventually led to a new life for Opala in the United States. Gene Warr died in 2006. After the war ended in 1945, Opala continued to serve in the British Army. In 1947, he immigrated to the U.S. with the help of Gene and C.B. Warr. U.S. Senator Mike Monroney agreed to help Opala at the request of the elder Warr, and as a longtime friend of President Harry Truman, Monroney was able to secure for Opala a cherished immigrant's visa. Opala settled in Oklahoma City to be near the family that sponsored him. He became an American citizen in 1953. Opala earned two degrees from Oklahoma City University, one in law in 1953, and another in economics in 1957. OCU later awarded Opala an Honorary Doctorate in Law in 1981. He earned a Master's in Law in 1968 from New York University, and later attended many summer conferences on the history of Anglo-American law in universities throughout Great Britain. Opala served as an Assistant County Attorney for Oklahoma County from 1953 to 1956. He was in private practice in Oklahoma City from 1956 to 1960, and he served as a Referee of the Oklahoma Supreme Court from 1960 to 1965. He practiced law with the firm of Fenton, Fenton, Smith, Reneau & Moon from 1965 to 1967, and worked as a staff lawyer for Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Rooney McInerney from 1967 through 1968. Opala became the first Administrative Director of the Oklahoma Court System in 1968, and served in that capacity until 1977. The same year, Gov. David Boren appointed Opala to the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court, and then to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1978. He served as Chief Justice from 1991-1992. When he passed away this week, Justice Opala had served on the Court for 32 years. Justice Opala taught law on a part-time basis for fifty years in three of the state's law schools--the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University, and The University of Tulsa. He was also frequently invited to speak at law schools and various legal forums throughout the country. He was the author of numerous legal papers, and was the recipient of many awards and honors. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2000. Justice Opala is known for his devotion to the First Amendment, which he attributed to his experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe. A group called Freedom of Information Oklahoma presents the "Marian Opala First Amendment Award" each year to an Oklahoman who has defended the freedom of speech. Justice Opala is survived by his longtime companion, Roberta A. Bertoch, and his son, Joseph Opala, an historian currently serving as the director of a research project in West Africa. Services will be conducted by Father Patrick Bright at All Souls' Episcopal Church on Monday October 18, 2010 at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to All Soul's.
Published in The Oklahoman from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17, 2010