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Reese Rowling: Geologist finds treasures abound

Story by Cindy Ramirez
Research by Timi Haggerty
NOVA Quarterly Fall 2006

Reese Rowling’s life yielded many treasures.

"He loved the hunt for oil and gas — it was the thrill," says his youngest daughter, Katherine Klingaman. "He took some risks and he succeeded."

A 1951 graduate of the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP), Rowling was co-founder and principal of Tana Oil and Gas Corporation, one of Texas’ most successful oil and gas exploration companies.

Though he was renowned for his vision and tenacity in the energy industry, Rowling, who died in 2001 at the age of 73, approached his personal life with an even greater passion. Business never got in the way of family.

"One of the greatest qualities about dad was that he loved unconditionally," Klingaman says, recalling the Thursday lunch appointments he always kept with his children — even when business matters summoned him.

Rowling during his Miner days around 1950

This fall, UTEP honors Rowling with a 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award.

"Daddy would feel very undeserving," says Klingaman, adding that her father was a giving man who often funded scholarships for family members — and complete strangers he met during his lifetime.

His generosity touched UTEP as well: He established the Reese Rowling Endowed Fund for Geology, which provides stipends for graduate and undergraduate students.

"He loved UTEP," says Klingaman, a former teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom. "He talked about how fortunate he was to have been able to go to the one place that offered the best education in his field."

Rowling was honored as UTEP’s Gold Nugget Award recipient for the College of Science in 1993.

Carol Grassel, Rowling’s oldest daughter, recalls her father driving through campus and pointing to the mountain where he and other engineering and science students whitewashed a giant "M" as part of the Texas College of Mines tradition. She says UTEP was a perfect fit.

"For someone who wanted to be a geologist, TCM was absolutely the best place to be," says Grassel, a former accountant who now owns small retail businesses with her husband in Corpus Christi.

Rowling was born in Waycross, Ga., in 1928 to Harry Herschel Rowling and Lily May McIntosh Rowling. His father worked for the railroad, and Rowling and his older brother Harry, grew up in a humble home.

After high school, Rowling enlisted in the Army, serving as a paratrooper. He later enrolled at the Texas College of Mines. In 1949, he married Kay Collier, with whom he had four children — David Rowling, Robert Rowling, Grassel and Klingaman.

Reese Rowling worked with several oil and gas companies at the start of his career, including Standard Oil of Texas, Signal Oil and Gas, and Evans Production. In 1959, he moved to Corpus Christi and eventually began work as an independent geologist.

Together with William E. Colson, Rowling formed Tana Oil and Gas Corporation in 1972.

His son Robert soon followed his footsteps, leaving his law career to work alongside his father.

Rowling at Fort Bragg, 1947

In the 1980s, Teco Pipeline Company was formed as a sister company to Tana. Tana’s portfolio of reserves was eventually sold to Texaco for $476 million.

"Reese wasn’t only a good geologist, he was a very good businessman," says Mike Popejoy, a childhood friend of Robert Rowling and past president of Tana Oil and Gas.

More success followed in the 1990s. The Rowlings formed TRT Holdings Inc., acquiring a majority interest in MBank Corpus Christi. The bank was recapitalized and then sold to NationsBank for $131 million in stock. TRT also created TRT Development Company, a hospitality and resort properties company. In 2002, TRT formed Tana Exploration Company, LLC, which operates in the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite his financial success, the shy and humble Rowling always told his children they should never work for money.

"His view was that if you were doing something you were passionate about, the money would take care of itself," says Robert Rowling.

Rowling and son Robert Rowling

Today, Robert Rowling is owner and chairman of TRT Holdings Inc., and chairman of TRT’s luxury hotel division, Omni Hotels. He also serves on the UT System Board of Regents. David Rowling worked as an independent landman in the energy industry and now is involved in ranching.

Robert Rowling says his father had a special gift.

"Achieving success as a geologist requires a ‘sixth sense’ which combines both art and science, and he had the ability to envision what was happening 15,000 feet below the surface of the earth," he says. "Geology was the passion of his life. Until the day he died, he worked geology, drilled wells and actually made another large discovery."

Reese Rowling wouldn’t have had it any other way.

"He loved geology," Popejoy says. "On his business card, he could have had ‘chairman of the board’ or ‘president,’ but he put ‘geologist.’ That was it." N