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Midland Living Magazine

Midland Profile: Modesta Williams

From branding pens to the White House, Modesta has created a life that she could have never imagined.

Written by: Avery Pullin   |  Photos provided by: Modesta Williams

West Texas Roots
Modesta was raised on a ranch in Borden County that her granddad homesteaded in 1901. Growing up riding horses and running cattle, she found her love of ranching. Eventually, her love of being in the open spaces would take her around the world, hunting big game on nearly every continent on Earth. 

After high school, she attended Texas Tech and TCU since A&M didn’t accept female applicants at that time. Soon after she began modeling with John Robert Powers. Though she was living in Midland, she dreamed of moving to New York City to pursue her modeling career further. That’s when she caught the eye of a young oilman from Ft. Stockton. 

When they first met, both Clayton and Modesta were uninterested in getting married. In her words, they were looking to “kick up their heels” and often sang Gale Garnett’s “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” to each other as they swore to stay out of a serious relationship. One year turned into two, and two turned into a lifetime. On May 22, 1965, Clayton and Modesta Williams married in Big Spring. 

In Midland, Clayton “Claytie” Williams is a name synonymous with oil, ranching, Texas A&M, and even some politics thrown in for spice. His larger-than-life personality has left thousands of West Texas oilmen with a chuckle and a memory and even more Aggies with a pride only those who don the rings fully understand. The old saying may come to mind that behind every great man is an even better “woman.” Yet somehow that doesn’t quite fit here, because Modesta Williams didn’t stand behind Claytie. She stood beside him. 

Building a Legacy
For the next ten years they lived in Ft. Stockton as they grew their oil business, but Claytie often needed to fly to Midland. So, in 1975, they moved to Midland “on a trial basis.” A few years later they purchased the grounds of the old Fiesta Drive-In and began dreaming of what they would build.

Cooks from the ranch brought their chuckwagons to helped feed workers and tear down the drive-in. First, they opened the twin towers, then Modesta began designing phase two. During this process, she fell in love with the idea of an atrium. As Modesta continued working on her plans, she developed a passion for architecture and decor. It was her innate eye for design that created the masterpiece of ClayDesta Center. By the time they completed ClayDesta, Claytie said, “I gave her an unlimited budget, and she surpassed it by 43%!” 

Throughout the years Modesta has been able to continue developing the interior of ClayDesta by installing their exotic mounts. Walking through the halls still allows you to linger in the memories every picture evokes. Inviting everything from ice cream parties with mariachi bands to handshakes with political dignitaries to the epic engineer vs. geologist debates in the war room, the space Modesta created in ClayDesta is as storied as the Permian Basin itself. 

Ranching, Hunting, and the Great Outdoors
While Modesta loved designing ClayDesta, she also has a love for the outdoors. Though Claytie often gets the notoriety for ranching, it was Modesta who truly loved the ranching way of life. In 1972 they were looking for their first ranch to buy. As they stood overlooking the valley below, Modesta got tears in her eyes from the sheer beauty. Claytie knew then they had to buy it. 
Happy Cove Ranch became their retreat and a place where they often entertained. At bull sales and ranch parties, Modesta was seen greeting guests. Many times she would help work cattle and could be found in the branding pen, a job she truly enjoyed. On weekends when it was just the family, they would hike the mountains. 

Claytie introduced Modesta to big game hunting early on. They spent many vacations hunting exotic animals. Their first overseas trip in 1974 was to Afghanistan hunting Marco Polo sheep where they rode yaks and slept outdoors. In China, she earned a world record and naming rights for a Gansu Argali sheep. During 9/11 they were in the mountains of Turkmenistan and spent many days trying to get back to the States with their belongings. 

She has also hunted in Russia, Nepal, and Pakistan. She has killed a world record crocodile in Ethiopia and a rogue black rhino, also in Africa. She has hunted polar bear from a dogsled near the North Pole in such frigid temperatures that her breath turned to icicles. Some of her favorite memories were hunting in Canada where they spent weeks on horseback and camping. 

In the Office
Though she is comfortable outdoors, Modesta is known to be just at ease in the boardroom. Throughout the tenure of their companies, she was often seen sitting in on important meetings. Early on in their marriage, Claytie encouraged her to always be a part of the business and the knowledge she gained throughout the years has served her well.

Being politically astute is also part of Modesta’s nature. She stood next to President Ronald Reagan during a meeting while he was in office and sat across the way from President George H.W. Bush in the Resident’s Quarters at the White House. She was with Claytie every step during his gubernatorial race and continued to greet aspiring political leaders for decades. 

In February 2020, Modesta sadly lost Claytie, but she knows they will be together again due to their shared faith in Jesus Christ. They were long-time members of First Presbyterian Church, and they are known for the goodness and kindness they showed to everyone they encountered. Today, she continues running their joint business ventures, spending weekends at the ranch, and enjoying time with her family. She is also proud to support Starlight Therapy, a 501(c)(3) therapeutic riding center started by her daughter, Chim. 

Though she undoubtedly misses the love of her life, Modesta continues to be a beacon of strength and wisdom. Having seen many oil cycles, when asked what she would share with someone who has been rattled with the latest bust she encourages, “You did not cause this. You did not do this. Keep your self-confidence and pride. It will change. It always has.” †

Faces Of the Permian Basin 2020


Digital Issue Fall 2021