T. Boone Pickens is one of the most complicated human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Let me be clear about something. To say I “know” Boone can be construed as a bit of an overstatement. I do not know him well. I’ve had precisely three meetings with the legendary Texas Panhandle oil and natural gas wildcatter: two of them in Amarillo and one at his magnificent ranch in Roberts County, which he calls Mesa Vista.
Take my word for it, the view at Mesa Vista is a sight to behold.
Pickens announced recently that he is putting his ranch on the market. He’s asking a cool $250 million for the place that sprawls across 80,000 acres — give or take.
Pickens is having some health problems relating to a series of strokes he reportedly has suffered. Thus, I am sad to hear the news of his effort to sell Mesa Vista. I want nothing but the best for this individual, who has had — and this is a charitable description — something of a checkered history with Amarillo.
It was around 1987 when I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and began reading this front-page story about a flamboyant billionaire oilman launching a boycott against the Amarillo Globe-News. I was living and working in Beaumont. My first reaction when I saw the article: Who in the hell does this guy Pickens think he is?
Pickens didn’t like the way the Globe-News covered the news, namely as it related to him. He sought to get advertisers to quit buying ad space in the paper; he urged subscribers to quit buying and reading the paper. He became enmeshed in a serious feud with the newspaper’s publisher at the time.
The feud with the publisher escalated. Finally, Morris Communications, which owned the Globe-News at the time, reassigned the publisher, Jerry Huff, and sent him packing.
That’s when Pickens did something that remains stuck in the craw of many folks in Amarillo. He hung a banner on the side of the building he once owned in the downtown district. The banner screamed “Goodbye, Jerry.”
Pickens himself would depart Amarillo not long after that. He relocated to Dallas.
That was the Bad Boone I had heard about. He was prone to vengefulness. He could be mean. He held grudges.
When I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995, the Pickens era in Amarillo had long since passed. But not long after my arrival in the Panhandle, I made an effort to meet this man I knew only by what I had read about him.
The effort took years. I talked many times with his press aide, trying to figure out a way to sit down with Pickens, to pick his substantial brain about energy policy, about his plans to sell Panhandle water downstate, or his efforts to build massive wind farms throughout the High Plains.
Pickens’s press suggested I could go to Dallas. I would have liked to do that, but my employer — the Globe-News — wouldn’t pay my way. I then offered to meet with Pickens at a diner in Pampa. I’d even buy his lunch! No go on that offer.
Then came the opportunity to meet. I had heard that Pickens was coming to Amarillo. I called his press guy. I asked if there was a chance to meet. Two days later, I got the go ahead. Pickens would come to the Globe-News.
He came and we met for a couple of hours.
What kind of man did I encounter? He was charming, talkative, and so very friendly. He admitted it was hard for him to darken the Globe-News door, given the history he had with the paper. But we had a wonderful and quite productive first meeting.
I would meet with him a second time not long after that at the Amarillo Civic Center. That meeting was much shorter, but he was no less charming.
The third meeting would be at Mesa Vista. I had left the Globe-News in August 2012 and was working as a part-time stringer for KFDA NewsChannel 10, writing news features for the station’s website. An on-air reporter, a cameraman and I drove to the ranch and had a fantastic view of this magnificent spread.
Pickens shared with me how he was slowing down because of his age; he was in his mid-80s when we met the final time.
I wanted to share this here because of the news of his effort to sell Mesa Vista. I don’t know who is going to come up with the kind of dough Pickens is asking for his spread.
Yes, news of his selling Mesa Vista seems to signal the end of an era in the Texas Panhandle, where Pickens earned the first part of his vast fortune. He has been through many peaks and valleys with this part of the world.
I am glad — and proud — to have been able to meet and visit with the Good Boone.