Legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens, a self-described "opinionated energy investor, entrepreneur, proponent of American energy resources and philanthropist," died Wednesday, Sept. 11 at his home in Dallas. He was 91 years old.
Pickens died of natural causes, his family said, surrounded by loved ones.
Born in 1928 in Holdenville, Oklahoma, Pickens, a geologist by trade, made his fortune in oil. He began his career with Phillips Petroleum and, in 1956, was the architect behind Mesa Petroleum. Years later, in 1996, he founded the energy-focused hedge fund BP Capital.
In his nine decades, Pickens donated over $1 billion to charity, more than half of which went to his alma mater: Oklahoma State University.
"T. Boone Pickens became a household name across the country because he was bold, imaginative, and daring," said President George W. Bush. "He was successful -- and more importantly -- he generously shared his gains with institutions and communities across Texas and Oklahoma. He loved the outdoors, his friends and family, and his country, and he will be missed. Laura and I send our condolences."
A lifelong, ardent fan of OSU football, Pickens published his most recent annual letter to the team's fan base on Aug. 29, adding that he hoped to continue giving his thoughts about the team for "as long as I can." Pickens admitted in the letter that, "as long as I can" was "a sobering notion."
"At 91, I'm grateful for every added day, week, month and year," Pickens wrote. "However I’m realistic about being close to the finish line. And I'm working diligently to complete projects as quickly as I can and tie up any loose ends."
Pickens remarked he had a lot of things to get done yet, and not a lot of time to do it.
"That's not a morbid notion, it's reality," Pickens wrote.
Some of those things included attending as many OSU games in person, in Stillwater, as he could. He said he had the same goal in 2018, where he managed to attend five home games (though he insists he watched them all).
"Five years ago, as grand marshal of OSU’s homecoming, I knocked out pushups on the ROTC’s pushup board. Now walking 50 yards to my suite is a challenge. And when I do it, I feel just as triumphant," Pickens recalled.
Pickens hoped this year OSU would again win a Big 12 football championship -- and then a berth in the College Football Playoffs.
"Fingers crossed Mike Gundy can make that happen this year. The window is closing for me," Pickens wrote.
On Sept. 6, Pickens tweeted that for the first time in 46 years he was missing the Oklahoma State Golf Pro Am. A day before, Pickens retweeted Bill Haisten, with the Tulsa World, who remarked that Pickens also ended a 76-year run of hunting on the first day of dove season and OSU's home opener, a 56-14 rout of McNeese State.
In July, Pickens marked the 11th anniversary of the launch of the Pickens Plan, a self-funded, $100 million grassroots campaign that would work to end the U.S. dependency on oil from OPEC. He worked to boost the United States' adoption of wind, solar and natural gas, according to Forbes.
"I began my crusade during the 2008 presidential campaign because I felt that it was necessary to refocus America’s attention on the need for energy independence from OPEC oil. Eleven years later, the current state of US energy is stronger than ever," Pickens wrote. "However, more needs to be done."
Pickens said the money that would be saved by using the alternative energy he proposes would far outweigh any initial costs, and keep the U.S. from falling behind China.
"America has never had a plan," Pickens said. "They have a plan to solve their problem, we don't."
Pickens' plan included creating new jobs, providing incentives for homeowners and commercial building owners to upgrade their insulation and other energy saving options. He said natural gas should be used not as a solution to oil, but as a bridge to alternative energy sources.
"He was a true entrepreneur, always trying to find better ways to make the energy business better. He wanted energy independence and thus started the "Pickens Plan" with an army of over six million followers," said Alan White, founder of Plains Capital Bank and Pickens' best friend. "He has made his mark on the industry ... We lost a good one today."
Pickens joined The Giving Pledge in August 2010, an effort launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett that called on the richest people in the U.S. to commit to giving away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations -- either during their lifetime or after their death.
Forbes reported that by that point, Pickens had already donated at least $265 million to Oklahoma State University. More recently, Pickens said that number had grown to $652 million and was, "a number boosted by a series of unpublicized gifts over the past 10 years."
Pickens said his donation style was a little unconventional compared to his peers who often leave money to be distributed after they're gone. Pickens said he's given so much while he's alive so that he could see the good done with his money now and not wonder what may be done with it after he's gone.
"Unquestionably, $652 million is a lot, and there are no doubt critics out there who would champion it going for broader, societal issues. I’m satisfied with my giving. I don't want a bigger suite or a better parking spot. Or yet another honorary degree. I want championships across the board. I hope you understand why, and I hope we get them while I can still savor the victories," Pickens said in his annual letter.
In 2018, Pickens sold his Gulfstream 550 jet and announced BP Capital was closed for business. His prized possession -- his incredible 68,000-acre West Texas ranch -- was then listed for sale for $250 million.
"When the ranch gets sold, it will leave a big hole for me," Pickens wrote during a recent email exchange with the Tulsa World. "But it's the right thing to do. I can't see the beautiful vistas as well as I once did, and my hunting days are over. Keeping it puts a big burden on my estate. And I'd truly like to stick around to see someone enjoying it half as much as I have."
As he got older, Pickens focused heavily on keeping his mind and body in shape. To tackle that goal, Pickens maintained stringent workout routine and worked hard to keep his mind sharp.
"What I'm after is that I don't get old and feel bad, and I had started to see that in people as they get older," Pickens said.
Slowed by a series of ministrokes around Christmas 2016, in July of the following year Pickens said he'd regained 90 percent of his speech through aggressive therapy and determination.
"Many of those who face adversity like this at 89 choose to hide it," he wrote. "My life has always been an open book. Some chapters of my life have been great. Others not so much."
In 2017, he took a "Texas-sized fall" that resulted in a head injury.
On his 85th birthday, a total stranger mailed Pickens a trunk of 110 Civil War-era letters written by his ancestors. They were written during the Civil War by two brothers, Samuel and John Miles Pickens. The two Confederate soldiers on the front lines were writing home to their parents. Both brothers survived the war and the letters chronicle their journey.
The gift was timely. Pickens' mother's dying wish was for him to learn where he came from.
Pickens is survived by five children, Deborah Pickens Stovall, Pam Pickens Grace, Michael Pickens, Tom Pickens and Liz Pickens Cordia, 11 grandchildren and an increasing number of great-grandchildren.
A public funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 19 at Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas. Confirmed speakers include longtime friend Alan White and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Details on a second memorial being planned at OSU's Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma are pending.