Life, Love, & the Pursuit of Oil & Gas
by toshia humphries & rebecca rister | photos by studio 1401 and provided by the pitts family
Love At First Sight
“I always worked,” Gary explained, “and after graduating high school, I went after the big money in the oil field – three dollars an hour, roughnecking in North Texas. After roughnecking a couple months,” Gary continued, “I moved back to Odessa and got a job as a welder’s helper on a pipeline. There, I reconnected with some of my friends from high school.
"One friend of mine and I were talking one Sunday afternoon,” Gary went on to explain, “and he was telling me that his girlfriend had a friend that was not dating anyone. He and his girlfriend had a date for the following Friday evening and wondered if I would like to join them and her friend on a blind date.
“I am going to tell you I was a little reluctant,” Gary interjected. “He had done this to me before, and it did not work out very well.” The foursome went on the date Friday evening and later that night on the way back to Odessa Gary told his buddy, “I need to either join the Navy or get drafted and out of town, because if I do not leave, I am going to marry Michele.” Gary added, “Love at first sight does happen. That blind date wound up being the lady I fell in love with and have been married to for forty-nine years.”
Permian Basin Roots
“Michele’s family moved here in 1951,” Gary explained, “when she was fourteen months old. She had lived in Midland until she went to Hardin Simmons in Abilene. My dad was a roughneck,” Gary went on to explain, “a roust-about, a pumper and in oil field construction, so we moved about every two years – North Central Texas to Southern Oklahoma and finally out to West Texas. My parents and sisters moved to Odessa from Temple, Oklahoma,” Gary continued, “and I finally joined them when school started and graduated from Odessa High in 1968.
“After graduating from A&M with a degree in Geophysics and resigning my Navy commission,” Gary stated, “I was employed by Gulf Oil Corporation in Houston and was placed in their training program. After completing the training program, each new geophysicist had an interview with the Vice President of Exploration in order to discuss which division they would prefer. When I was asked, I mentioned my wife was from Midland. The VP said, ‘Great! You got it!’ I never got a chance to say anything else. So, in 1974,” Gary said, “Michele, our three-year-old son, Corey, and I moved to Midland with Gulf Oil.
With the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry,” Gary continued, “I was transferred or moved from Midland three times, and we always figured out a way to get back. We moved back for the fourth time in 1992 and have been here since then. In fact, we stated we would change companies before moving from Midland again.”
Oil & Gas…A Way of Life
With so much passion for the industry, one has to wonder where he acquired it; what inspired him to work in the oil and gas industry. According to Gary, he just didn’t know any better. “I was basically born into the industry,” Gary explained. “My dad used to tell me that the first time I was on a rig was when I was about a week old. When my dad became a Pumper/Lease Operator,” Gary continued, “I would go to the leases with him on weekends, holidays and summers. This started when I was in the third grade. I can remember tailing and wrenching rods when I was eight or nine.”
But, as we know, though roughnecking is in his blood, Gary didn’t spend his career doing it. That shift was one that came from a fateful conversation decades ago. “When I was roughnecking the summer after Michele and I got married,” Gary stated, “I kept seeing this person out on the rig site going back and forth to a trailer. I went over and talked with him and found out what he was making and that he had a degree in Geology. It did not take long for the light to go off in my head that, if I was going be in the oil and gas industry, I was getting off the rig floor.
“I started college in the fall,” Gary said, “majoring in Geology, at Odessa Junior College. I had a very good advisor and the last semester of my sophomore year, he called me to his office, told me that he had been going over my grades and saw that I had a great aptitude for math. His next question was, ‘Have you considered Geophysics?’ I asked him which paid the higher salary and he told me Geophysics. I was married,” Gary added, “and we were expecting our son, midterm. So, we headed to A&M in College Station in January 1971, and I began majoring in Geophysics.” It was the start of a very long and fruitful career in the oil and gas industry.
Gary retired from his position as Vice President and General Manager for the Midland Division of EOG Resources in 2014, after eight years of service. Midland Living Magazine’s co-publisher, Heather Lundgren Martin, had the pleasure of working under Gary at EOG. “Gary was one of the most beloved General Managers in the company! A few words that come to mind and are often used to describe Gary are: Christian, Genuine, Honest, Intelligent, and Likable! I thoroughly enjoyed working with Gary as did the rest of the Midland team. He and Michele took me out to dinner on several occasions and always made all the staff feel welcomed and appreciated! I cannot say enough nice things about Gary and Michele.”
Gary admitted that he couldn’t stay completely away from the industry, as he simply enjoys it too much. After ten months of retirement, he entered into a part-time retainer agreement with Quantum Energy Partners as a Senior Advisor. He now assists them and their various portfolio companies. However, Gary and Michele, are still making the most of “retirement” and have made several adventurous trips across the globe from Israel to Hawaii.
Though, Gary clearly loves the industry, he’s aware of the constant shifts and concerns it can bring for those who work in it. But he, of course, has an optimistic outlook and a positive motto.
“You learn to roll with the punches,” Gary stated. “And, if a door closes, God always opens several more for you and a couple windows too. You just have to keep the faith.”
And faith is something Gary and Michele both have a lot of, and they share it with as many people as possible. In fact, along with attending church and Sunday school, they were volunteers on mission trips for twenty years, and members of the Board for Buckner and Habitat for Humanity. Giving back to their community and blessing others as they have been blessed is clearly important to them.
“We both love to cook,” Gary stated, “and when possible we will cook for others. We were a part of the First Baptist mission trips to Mexico, Idaho and Canada for several years and were, among other things, the primary cooks. I was the cook and Michele was the chef, for anywhere from as few as 20 to as many as 200.”
And, though some in other parts of the world may question an oil and gas man’s love of and concern for the environment, Gary has a strong tie to nature and remains conscious of the carbon footprint left behind. In fact, Gary and Michele both treasure the great outdoors in its natural, unharmed state.
“We both greatly enjoy the outdoors and fishing,” Gary stated. “We will usually plan two to three or more fishing trips each year and really enjoy fishing in Alaska. We have a small ranch in Southwest Coleman County,” Gary continued, “and spend a lot of time there just working on improving the pastures and countryside, trying to get it back to its native state.”
Gary went on to say, “The industry is always concerned about our impact on the environment and try very hard to minimize every footprint possible.”
And, possibly that concern Gary shares comes from one of his personal mission statements; “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Certainly, Mother Nature and all her creatures apply.
Moreover, that sort of concern and love for nature, coupled with the love of the industry, is what gives this Native author hope that great minds with big hearts, like Gary and those that follow his legacy, will continue to search out solutions to honor God’s creations and make conscious efforts to ensure a brighter, cleaner world for our children.
In the meantime, Gary and his wife, Michele, are doing their part to brighten the lives of all those they meet and, in that way, they make this world – and certainly Midland – a better place.