Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Encyclopedia Homepage
Search all Volumes
Disclaimer and Usage
Copyright 2007

Table of Contents Search All Entries Home


U.S. Representative Thomas Allen Coburn, who became the first Republican to represent his district in Congress in seventy-two years, was born to Orin W. "Bill" and Joy Allen Coburn in Casper, Wyoming, on March 14, 1948. The family moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, where Thomas Coburn graduated from Central High School in 1966. He then attended Oklahoma State University and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1970. In 1968 he married Carolyn Denton, with whom he had three daughters, Callie, Katie, and Sarah. Coburn served as the manufacturing manager of the Ophthalmic Division of Coburn Optical Industries in Colonial Heights, Virginia, from 1970 to 1978. In 1983 he graduated from the University of Oklahoma Medical School. After an internship at St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City and a residency at the University of Arkansas Area Health and Education Center in Fort Smith, he returned to Muskogee to begin his medical practice, specializing in family medicine and obstetrics.

In 1994 Coburn decided to run for the Second District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which had been held by Mike Synar since 1979. Coburn and the other two Republican candidates all expressed the desire to replace Synar. However, Synar was defeated in the Democratic primary, so Coburn did not get the chance to run against him. Coburn won the Republican primary and defeated Democratic candidate Virgil Cooper to win the seat, becoming the first Republican to represent the Second District since Alice Mary Robertson, who had served from 1921 to 1923. Coburn was reelected twice and did not seek reelection in 2000, keeping his promise to serve only three terms.

While in Congress, Coburn served on the Commerce Committee during all three of his terms and also served one term on the Science Committee. He served as vice chair of the Health and Environment Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee during his last term. Most of his work in Congress involved health care and related issues. He coauthored legislation to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act, which redirected much of the federal money for HIV/AIDS toward efforts to prevent the infection. In 1998 Coburn successfully fought against House rules that would have prevented him from continuing to practice medicine part-time while in Congress.

After retiring from Congress, Coburn returned to Muskogee to resume his practice full time. In 2002 he was appointed to cochair the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Coburn is a Baptist and has served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. He also participated in medical missions to Haiti in 1985 and Iraq in 1992.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1996 (Alexandria, Va: CQ Staff Directories, 1997). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 25 January 2002. Muskogee (Oklahoma) Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat, 8 July 1994. Who's Who in America, 1998 (52nd ed.; New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who, Inc., 1998).

Matthew Rex Cox

© Oklahoma Historical Society

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site