[Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the March 2020 edition of E&P. Subscribe to the magazine here.]
Texas has lost one of the last great wildcatters. Words can hardly capture the many business and philanthropic achievements of Clayton W. Williams Jr. The iconic Texas oilman, known far and wide as “Claytie,” passed away in Midland, Texas, on Feb. 14 of pneumonia at age 88.
Williams founded some 26 companies, eight of them in oil and gas. Well known for wildcat drilling throughout Texas, he also founded what was once the largest individually owned gas pipeline company in Texas, Clayjon Gas. The capstone of his long career was the sale of publicly held Clayton Williams Energy Inc. (CWEI) to Noble Energy in 2017 for cash and stock valued at $2.7 billion.
A lifelong resident of West Texas, Williams was born in Pecos County. Following in his father’s footsteps, he attended Texas A&M University, graduating in 1954 and serving in the U.S. Army. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1981 and the school’s alumni center is named after him.
Williams began his career as an independent producer in the Permian Basin in 1957. Over the decades, he amassed a signifi cant lease position across Texas and founded companies in the upstream, midstream, banking, telecom and real estate development industries.
He was an early driller in the Giddings Field and Austin Chalk, and he donated overriding royalty interests in Giddings to Texas A&M in 1979.
Through the years, he endured every cycle of the oil and gas industry, from highest highs to lowest lows. At one point he was named the fi rst Aggie billionaire, and in 1984 he landed on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans.
But at another point, he was about to fi le for bankruptcy. At the last minute during a fl ight to meet with his bankers, he changed his mind, vowing to work doubly hard to pay off all creditors. He did.
The sale of CWEI in April 2017 was his largest and last great deal among many he forged over the years. At the time, CWEI held 171,000 net Permian acres and produced 10,000 boe/d, primarily in the Delaware Basin.
The energetic entrepreneur received many business and oil industry honors. He was inducted into the All-American Wildcatters and, in 2005, the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum Hall of Fame. In 2002 he was the honoree at the Permian Basin International Oil Show.
Williams is survived by his wife, Modesta, their five children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
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