If the Texas Panhandle ever produced a more polarizing figure than oil and natural gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens, I would be hard-pressed to identify that individual.
Pickens died today at age 91. He had suffered a series of strokes in 2017. His body finally gave out.
Where does one begin to examine the amazing, confounding, controversial life of this extraordinary human being? Be advised that I use the term “extraordinary” to encompass the bad along with the good. Boone Pickens was far from an ordinary business mogul.
He was born in Oklahoma, but gravitated to the Panhandle at an early age. He earned his fortune in Amarillo. Pickens became a towering figure in the region.
To be totally candid, Pickens didn’t always wear his noted standing with grace and dignity. The man could be vicious. He held grudges.
Yes, he had many friends who were loyal to him at all times, even as he declared proverbial war on his adversaries.
I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to take up my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I was acutely aware of the feud that Pickens launched against the newspaper. In the late 1980s he launched a boycott of the paper, objecting to the way it covered his business dealings and ostensibly at the way it covered the community.
He formed a group called People Committed to a Better Amarillo Newspaper, or PCBAN. He sought to persuade readers to stop subscribing to the paper; he bullied advertisers to stop buying space in the paper.
Pickens took personal umbrage at the then-publisher of the Globe-News, Jerry Huff, who eventually would be “reassigned” to another property owned by Morris Communications. As Huff exited Amarillo, Pickens displayed his crassness in full view by hanging a “Good bye, Jerry” banner from his office building a few blocks from the Globe-News.
That’s the bad Boone. I had three meetings with him during my time in Amarillo. I never met the man I have just described. Instead, I had the pleasure of meeting the good Boone, who was as charming, funny, erudite as anyone I’ve ever met.
It took a good while to persuade Pickens to come to Amarillo. He continued to harbor hard feelings toward the newspaper. He had departed Amarillo for Dallas years earlier. He kept his sprawling Mesa Vista Ranch in Roberts County and would return there regularly.
Our first meeting went far better than I could have hoped. The second meeting took place at the Civic Center a couple of years later. The third meeting occurred at his opulent ranch while I was on assignment for KFDA NewsChannel 10.
I enjoyed getting to know this individual, who was fond of dropping the names of the rich and powerful.
The last time I saw him, he told me he didn’t get back to Amarillo much, other than to attend funerals of high school classmates and assorted friends. Those visits now are over.
Was he always likable and charming? Oh, no. Someone who earned as many billions of dollars as Boone Pickens did was bound to pummel many adversaries along the way.
However, my limited exposure to this astonishing force of nature remains one of the highlights of my career.