John Massey, the charismatic and big-hearted chairman emeritus of Durant, Oklahoma-based First United Bank, passed away surrounded by family on June 24. He was 86 years old. An Oklahoma native, he grew up in Boswell, Guthrie and Durant. He learned the value of hard work and resilience early from his parents, Jennie and Emmett Massey.
After serving two terms as an Oklahoma state representative while still in his 20s, followed by two terms in the Oklahoma State Senate, Massey relinquished his legislative duties in 1970 to focus on his entrepreneurial ambitions. Along with his longtime business partner, Allen Wheeler, Massey established and owned more than 20 businesses in Oklahoma and Texas, including banks, apartments, nursing homes, motels, cable and television stations, real estate developments and laundromats.
Massey began his long and successful banking career with an initial investment in Durant Bank and Trust. This early investment led to the bank’s evolution from a small bank to a flourishing financial organization with a huge purpose. Massey was appointed chairman of the board in 1974, bought a controlling interest in the bank in 1986 and changed its name to First United Bank in 1998. Today, First United Bank is a financial organization whose purpose is to inspire and empower others to “Spend Life Wisely.” This purpose includes a holistic approach to life that encompasses financial well-being, faith, health and wellness, and personal growth. First United Bank serves more than 300,000 customers through a network of community banks, mortgage offices, insurance agencies and wealth management firms in over 57 communities across Oklahoma and Texas and has assets of $14 billion.
Passionate about education, Massey believed that everything worthwhile traces its roots to education. Proud to be a first-generation college student, he worked hard to set an example for his family. He earned his BS degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SEOSU) in 1960. His accomplishments on campus were numerous. He was a member of Blue Key Men’s Leadership Fraternity, president of the Student Senate, listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities and is the only graduate in the institution’s history to receive the Outstanding Student Award for three consecutive years.
Massey was named a distinguished alumnus of SEOSU in 1984. In 2005, the university honored him by renaming its school of business the John Massey School of Business. In 2015, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southeastern Alumni Association—the only award of its kind ever presented. The contributions Massey and his family have made to SEOSU have been transformational. They include more than $2.7 million to establish 13 endowed professorships and chairs, and the creation of the John Massey Leadership Scholars Program, a scholarship program that will continue his legacy in leadership by providing 40 scholarships to SEOSU students each year.
Massey served as a regent of the Oklahoma State System for Higher Education from 1992 until 2019, a record 27 years of service that made him the first three-term state regent. He was named state regent emeritus in 2019. During this time, his advocacy and implementation of the Oklahoma’s Promise college tuition scholarship program was his greatest passion and continues to help Oklahoma families. In 2004, Massey was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame.
Massey served in the National Guard and U.S. Army. During his service, he was nominated Soldier of the Year by fellow soldiers at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Camp Walters in Mineral Wells, Texas.
A dedicated and engaged community leader, he was active in many civic and professional organizations and served on numerous boards, including the State Ethics Commission, Oklahoma Historical Society board, Oklahoma Securities Commission, board of the Bank of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and Durant Enterprises Inc.
Massey was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2009, he was inducted into the Oklahoma City Community College Hall of Fame and received the prestigious Leadership Oklahoma Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He was awarded the Outstanding Alumni Award by Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity in 2001 and was also the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Durant Kiwanis Club in 2010.
Massey is survived by his wife, Donna Cook Massey, four sons, 15 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews, as well as a brother and sister.
Established in 1900, First United has more than 85 bank, mortgage, and insurance locations throughout Oklahoma and Texas.