Mr. Patrick F. Taylor: Louisiana oilman and visionary

By TLB Contributor: Ken LaRive

Drilling for oil
Drilling for oil
Photo by Ken LaRive 2000

With a twinkle in their eyes, old timers reminisce about the way it once was in the oilfield. Woven in the colored tapestry of stories is an old cliché, passed from chow halls to rig floors, accompanied by the resonance of motors and pumps. It is usually used to emphasize a bumbling mistake, a near miss, or as a blunt comparison to the way it once was, when there were “men of steel and rigs of wood.” Of course it is flavored with a bit of humor, but always used to make a point…

Men of “the old school” still remember it vividly, and these seasoned veterans want to instill in novice “worms” that those early work ethics should not be forgotten. It’s said these men of steel drank “Texas Tea” for breakfast, and had “Black Gold” for blood. They never got cold, or tired, as they remember, and worked as long as the sun was up, without complaint, happy to have a job. It took a strong breed of men to tackle the early oil industry, and some think our young hands just don’t have what it takes. Of course they do, but the early oilfield broke so much new ground by discovery and invention, that memories of it today seem bigger than life. What they have in common are the challenges and responsibilities they accept.

The word “wildcat” was invented to describe the danger of drilling where no rig had drilled before. Company Men let the hole “talk” to them. It was a new language learned by hard knocks, and years of time standing on the shakers looking at cuttings. Geology was taught by tempered observation, and there was wonder and magic for some of the things we may take for granted today. There was amazement while drilling through huge chunks of wood at 5,000 feet, the unexpected dangers of transitional zones and pressured shale, or the finding of great mushroom walls of obstructions like sulfur and salt domes blocking the pay. Before seismic surveys, these things could not yet be explained or predicted, and methods of drilling were explored by the seat of their pants.

There was a young man named Patrick F. Taylor who grew up in the middle of these gutsy times. He looked around his home town of Beaumont Texas, and saw his calling. He wanted to be an oilman.

He knew that in order to be successful he had to have the proper education, and so set out to apply himself in that direction. Though he came from humble beginnings, his dreams pulled him forward. He received an academic scholarship to Kinkaid, Houston’s finest prep school, in spite of being kicked out of his house at 16. Some kids grew up fast in those days, especially one motivated, and when Mr. Taylor finished high school, he immediately struck out on his own. The world was big, full of opportunity, and Mr. Taylor wanted a piece for himself.

With empty pockets he found his way to Louisiana. There he had heard of a college called Louisiana State University, which had no tuition. His drive secured a petroleum engineering degree in 1959, accomplished in just three and a half years, and from that springboard pushed forward with an innate savvy for business. He got his first job with Mr. John Mecom Sr., and quickly made a name for himself with his own consulting and production company. The Circle Bar Drilling Company was started with Mr. Mecom in 1974, and became a very successful drilling contracting company. It was sold in 1979, at which time Mr. Taylor formed Taylor Energy Company in New Orleans. Today, Taylor Energy Company is one of the larger independent oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico and remains solely owned. Taylor Energy Company is the only individually owned company ever to explore for and produce oil and natural gas in Federal offshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico. It took raw courage, and Mr. Taylor staked his entire life savings knowing full well that he was attempting to play with the big boys …large conglomerate corporations with seemingly unlimited capital and manpower. He dove in with the same tenacity he had as a sixteen year old, and won!

The October 2004 issue of Forbes Magazine listed that Mr. Taylor was ranked 234 of the 400 richest people in America. He has amassed a fortune worth in excess of 1.2 billion.

On November 5th, 2004, Mr. Taylor died from complications due to bacterial endocarditis at the age of 67. It may seem to some a short life, but what Mr. Taylor saw and did in his allotted time, most wouldn’t accomplish in a thousand. His adventure spirit brought him and his wife around the world. He was quite good at riding bronco bulls, but they say he took his share of spills too. He had a passion for wild game safaris in Africa, the racing of cigar boats in the Mississippi River, and logged 500 plus skydives, but in spite of this flamboyant spirit, Mr. Taylor was typically known to be very conservative. He would never speed while driving; in fact, he thought it was a sincere and sacred duty not to break social law. He played by the rules.

Mr. Taylor remembered his past and how he had been allowed to attend Louisiana State University with only his will to learn as tuition. Just as he had done in those early days as a boy, he looked around at the circumstances surrounding him in New Orleans, and recognized the need for change. He knew from his own experience that if given the opportunity, those without means may flourish academically. It struck home in 1988 when he was asked to speak to a group of 183 underachieving and troubled inner-city 7th and 8th grade students who were expected to drop out of school. He saw in their eyes the same hunger he once had, and made a magnanimous gesture that showed the true heart and spirit of this self-made man.

He told these kids that if they maintained a college prep “B” average, and stayed out of trouble, that he would sponsor them in college. The response from the students and their parents was overwhelming. Many went on to college with five of those students being recognized in Who’s Who Among American High School Students. It was a turning point.

Government publications were researched by Mr. Taylor, and he found alarming statistics… 80 percent of American parents felt they could not afford to send their children to college. Further study showed the trends of student performance versus tuition costs, and though every public university in Louisiana had an “open admissions policy,” changes would have to be made to make it profitable. He saw that students came to university mostly unprepared, and there was a very high incidence of dropout in the first semester. ACT scores were below the national average and many students needed remedial courses to get up to par with the University standard. With this data in hand, and a lot of hard work, the Louisiana Legislature finally adopted what was coined “The Taylor Plan,” and was first signed into law July 10th, 1989.

If the student qualified, tuition and fees were paid at any four year public college of their choice in Louisiana. This was an unprecedented achievement, and since that time twenty other states have adopted similar programs.

The original Taylor Plan is now called “TOPS,” the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students. Its requirements are a 2.5 GPA, a minimum of 16.5 college prep units in high school, and a score of at least 20 on the ACT test. By Mr. Taylor’s insistence, and his never give up attitude, TOPS is now considered the most comprehensive and successful program of its kind in the nation. In 1997, legislation in Louisiana went one step further, eliminating income as a program requirement. Today, 40,000 plus students are taking advantage of TOPS in Louisiana, based entirely on performance.

A quote from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation mission statement shows the ideals that so inspired this great leader, visionary, husband, successful oilman, and he lives on in the hearts of many: “…to promote the common good and well being of all the people of our nation, primarily by promoting universal and unlimited educational opportunities based solely on each individual’s demonstrated ability and willingness to learn.”

Mr. Taylor is sorely missed, and not just in the oil industry. His quick wit and positive attitude still echoes in the halls of Taylor Energy Headquarters at Lee Circle, New Orleans. What this amazing Texan turned Louisianan did, can not be measured, as the lives of countless people have been touched, by his vision, his dreams, and his good heart. He gave a large part of his time and effort to make this world a better place, and set in motion a way of looking at ourselves and the world where the power of a positive attitude can maintain and sustain us. His love for people was the building blocks of a life where his pride and hope displaced despair. He was a man who made original ideas reality, and took on his shoulders the responsibility for putting something back.

Sometimes, we are just too close to the light of history in the making to see it clearly. With time, the true awareness of what this man has done will be recognized. Mr. Patrick F. Taylor illuminated Louisiana, and in the process made our world a better place. He will be known throughout the ages as one of America’s true greats.

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