Don Evans was feted by a record-breaking crowd as he accepted his prestigious Top Hand Award.
By Lana Cunningham | Photography by Curtis Routh/Gary Jefferson at LeaveTheCamera.com
Donald L. Evans grew up in a world where he was influenced by not only his parents but also the television and movie hero Roy Rogers. After listening to longtime friends describe the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce during the Permian Basin Petroleum Association’s Top Hand dinner on January 23 at the Midland Center, it became clear why the honoree left cards at each seat listing Roy Rogers Riders Club rules.
Surrounded by 800 friends and out-of-towners who were themselves treated to the supreme networking opportunity, Evans was feted, kidded, and applauded as the PBPA’s 2013 Top Hand award recipient.
Each year the Permian Basin Petroleum Association honors the dedicated service of an individual in the oil and gas industry at an annual Top Hand award banquet. The PBPA Top Hand award is a “lifetime achievement” recognition for outstanding service to the oil and gas industry as well as the communities in which the PBPA membership is found.
Evans moved to Midland in 1975 for a job with Tom Brown, Inc., an independent energy company. By 1985, he had moved up the ladder from roughneck to CEO. In 1980, the company had a larger market cap than Ford Motor Company.
But when oil prices dropped, “we lost everything but our belief in ourselves,” he told the audience.
Evans guided the company and helped it re-focus on the natural gas market and its holdings in the Rocky Mountain area. “I learned humility and that you don’t get carried away when you’re riding high. The mid-1980s were tough times. There were a lot of bankruptcies and people [engineers and geologists] were going to work at McDonald’s,” he said.
In 2001, after his longtime friend, George W. Bush, was elected President, Evans was named U.S. Secretary of Commerce. He served four years in that position, taking the word about America’s economic policy around the world. He then returned to Midland.
Among the people “roasting” Evans were Jack Harper, Javaid Anwar, Bill Granberry, Paul Scherer, Bill Munn, Don Jones, Dr. Charles Younger, Joe O’Neill, and Ted Collins. A video tribute came from former President George W. Bush.
Anwar called Evans “the Energizer bunny,” explaining that the honoree could start the day in New York City, then go to Denver and wind up in Houston that evening. “How can he be in so many places in one day?”
Munn also found it difficult to keep up with Evans. “I worked with him for five years and was worn out. He works tirelessly. I’m sure no Secretary of Commerce flew to as many places as Don Evans. I didn’t see my friend for three years during that time.”
Jones described the Houston native as “the symbol of the American dream. He shows that hard work, perseverance, and optimism are the secrets to success.”
It was Younger who explained the business cards supplied by Evans that cited the Roy Rogers Riders Club rules: Be neat and clean; be courteous and polite; always obey your parents; protect the weak and always help them; be brave but never take chances; study hard and learn all you can; be kind to animals and care for them; eat all your food and never waste any; love God and go to Sunday School regularly; always respect our flag and our country.
According to the Midland physician, Evans as a young child loved watching the television star and his horse Trigger always get the bad guys. He joined the Roy Rogers Riders Club and tried to follow those rules throughout his life. “He preaches a sermon with his actions and words,” Younger said.
Longtime friend and Notre Dame graduate O’Neill sported a burnt orange tie to honor Evans, a graduate of UT-Austin.
After receiving the plaque as Top Hand, Evans opened his remarks by pulling out a hard hat from behind the speaker stand. “This is the hard hat I wore on the first day of my job as a roughneck for Tom Brown, Inc. My first boss was Billy Lovell and safety was first with him. I am big-time honored that he is here tonight.”
Evans talked of his career with Tom Brown, Inc., and then proceeded to describe his years as Commerce Secretary, focusing on the freedoms for which the United States is known. During his conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin at a campfire in Crawford, Texas, Evans pointed out those freedoms that established the United States as the premier country in the world.
“It’s our free enterprise system, the incredible optimistic spirit in America to be innovative,” he said. “The American people are a people of faith and integrity. When I talked to Putin about this, I was thinking about Midland and its people who are so much a part of my life. What would a company like Tom Brown, Inc., be able to do without these freedoms? It’s hard for you to realize the impact you’re having on the world,” Evans said of Midlanders. “You are on the road to energy independence. You can’t imagine what that does to our diplomatic leverage.
“Our freedoms, our optimistic spirit, our faith define West Texas at its best.”