Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about Oklahomans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read the stories of other Oklahomans here. Have you lost a loved one to COVID-19? Help us tell their story.
James Thomas Duncan saved every penny he had, was loyal to Chevy trucks and served his country in Vietnam, a fight he continued even when he returned to the home front.
On Feb. 17, 2021, the west Tulsa native died from COVID-19. He was 70.
“He loved us deeply, in his way,” said Melissa Provenzano, Duncan’s daughter and a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Provenzano said her father was a quiet man who didn’t always outwardly express his affection for his family, a common trait for people affected by war. After his death, Provenzano was reminded of how proud her father truly was.
“I was cleaning his house and came across my State Representative business card in his wallet,” she said. “On the back, he’d written ‘This is my daughter.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Duncan always preferred to work on his truck himself, until the day came that “the truck was more computer than truck” and he had to let someone else under the hood, Provenzano said.
He was also a hunter who later pivoted to fishing, which he said was more of an even fight.
Duncan enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1971 and served in the 31st Field Artillery Regiment, according to his obituary.
Shortly after getting married, Duncan was sent to the Vietnam War.
“He was proud of his time in the service, but it also cost him in many ways, primarily his health and his family life,” Provenzano said.
Duncan and Provenzano’s mother divorced two years after he returned.
“My mom had custody, thus my life with my dad consisted of weekends. It was so much different than the family he had imagined for himself,” Provenzano said. “He never quite recovered from it, and never took the leap to remarry, even when incredible women came into and out of his life.”
Born September 25, 1950, Duncan worked most of his life at Tayloe Paper Company and Norris, an oil and gas parts manufacturer. Provenzano said her father was a devout Christian but he would also get angry with God in equal measure.
Provenzano said her father was a quiet man who struggled to part with money, except when it came to passing her cash as a child.
She told The Frontier one of her fondest memories of her father was when he was driving her back to her mother’s house as a young child.
“We were on the back roads in Bixby, and I wanted to drive,” Provenzano recalled. “He gave me the wheel but kept a hand on it, driving so slowly. Apparently a little too slow, and a little too all over the road. An officer stopped us, thinking my dad was drunk. I climbed into the back seat to watch out the back window as he and the officer talked. The officer saw my worry and let my dad off with a warning.
“To the day he died, we would debate about whether I had gotten him out of a ticket.”