Texas leaders remember T. Boone Pickens, swashbuckling energy tycoon

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Oil tycoon, philanthropist, and alternative energy kick-starter T. Boone Pickens died Wednesday at the age of 91. Texas leaders quickly reflected on the man’s importance.

“He was a passionate man who always stood by his principles on his path to success. T. Boone Pickens’ commitment to establishing American energy independence will have a lasting impact on the state of Texas, and the United States of America,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Throughout his life and career, he generously gave to charitable causes to advance education, medical research, and humanitarian needs.”

“He took me under his wing and taught me the facts about the oil and gas industry and many truths about life itself. When I was first elected lieutenant governor, he kindly agreed to chair my Energy Policy Advisory Board,” said Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, R-Texas, “T. Boone made a “Texas-sized” contribution to our state and our country.”

“T. Boone Pickens was a bold visionary who long championed a diverse energy mix from renewable power to oil and gas, and understood that American energy security is critical to our national security,” wrote former Texas Governor and current U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on Twitter, “Most of all, T. Boone Pickens was a wonderful and philanthropic person who gave generously to causes he believed in. Countless lives have been changed because of him, including mine, and I am lucky to have called him a friend.”

“T. Boone Pickens became a household name across the country because he was bold, imaginative, and daring.  He was successful – and more importantly, he generously shared his success with institutions and communities across Texas and Oklahoma. He loved the outdoors, his country, and his friends and family, and Laura and I send our condolences,” said former President and Texas Governor George W. Bush.

A blunt philanthropist

Pickens knew how to impact politics and public policy.

When Texas A&M thought about leaving the Big Twelve football conference, Matthew Watkins, then a cub-reporter at the Bryan-College Station Eagle (now an editor at the Texas Tribune) got a call from Pickens. He was mad. Pickens didn’t want A&M to leave and he wanted leaders there to know it.

“It was another example of his outspokenness. He loved Oklahoma State football. He loved the Big 12 Football conference and he didn’t want anything bad to happen to it. So he was trying to convince the Aggie leaders to stay in the big twelve,” said Watkins.

Watkins says he knew how to get the ear of the influential. That A&M effort didn’t work out; but another, more impactful one did.

Pickens was a major funder for Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, formerly Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that questioned the military record of then-Senator John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election. Picken’s friend President George W. Bush went on to be re-elected.

“That was a close race. And it’s worth asking the question whether if T. Boone Pickens hadn’t been around it would have changed the course of history,” said Watkins.

Pickens impact will still be felt tomorrow because of his large financial gifts. Dallas knows the Pickens YMCA, Houston has the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and then there are the hundreds of millions he gave to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University.

Pickens also had some smaller government roles like chairing the Board of Regents of West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M.

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