Clayton Williams – Legendary Texan
This past February, Texas lost one of the great characters that made it a successful state. Clayton “Claytie” Williams died in Midland, Texas on Feb. 14, 2020. This article is not written to be an obituary but as a series of recollections of my memories with one of the larger than life legends of the Texas oil patch.
One of my greatest experiences having served on the Texas Railroad Commission was meeting several great Texas oilmen. Williams certainly was one. It would be exaggerating for me to claim a close acquaintance with Claytie, but I knew him. As someone who lived in Midland, Texas, from the early 80s until after winning the Republican Primary for Railroad Commissioner in 2010, and was active in civic and political affairs, I ran into him numerous times at events and occasionally around town. During the 1980s he probably spoke to every organization I was a member of at one time or another. While serving as Texas Railroad commissioner, I had a number of conversations with Mr. Williams both in person as well as over the phone.
My earliest recollection of Clayton Williams is at a luncheon at which he gave a speech to, what I recall being, a Midland Jaycees meeting. He made a statement there that I remember to this day. He said something to the effect, “It’s not so much the deals you do that make you rich — it’s the deals that you don’t do that make you rich.” Claytie was an entrepreneur — not only was he an oilman, he was also a rancher, banker, real estate developer, founder of ClayDesta Communications and a pipeliner. During the mid-1980s, as well as other times in his life, Clayton was close to broke, but he always came through – sold some assets or started another business and survived to win another day. He may have had more ups and downs in his net worth than any other person I have known. I remember a meeting about seven or eight years ago in his office in Claydesta Plaza, where I asked him why he thought he had so many successes in his life? He immediately answered, “Because I had so many failures. I tried a lot of things, some worked and some didn’t. I took the lessons of my failures and turned many of them into successes.”
At the last meeting I had with Claytie in his office, we talked of many things including the Austin Chalk and running for office. When I told him I had a place in Lee County between Dime Box and Giddings he got excited and started talking about old times in the Austin Chalk Giddings field in the late 70s and early 80s.
Clayton Williams was one of the largest leaseholders in the Austin Chalk play. He took me back into another part of his offices and showed me some maps of the Chalk and where leases were that he still owned. He told me he was holding on to those properties because he was convinced there was going to be another oil boom in the chalk.
Subsequent to that meeting, he sold his oil and gas properties — but he was right, this area is undergoing a burst of oil and gas activity. Drilling, leasing and building pipelines are all going full scale at the present time.
We talked about what it was like to run for a statewide office in Texas. I told him that I had read his biography shortly before running and that it had further fortified my belief to avoid the press when possible. The hostility of the press towards conservative Republicans has only increased over the last 30 or so years. We discussed how history might have been different if he had won that 90s gubernatorial race. If he had won that race, he probably would have run for reelection in 1994. George W. Bush in all probability would not have run that year for Governor and likely would not have been in a position to run for president in 2000. Of course, there is no way of knowing what would have happened if Clayton W. Williams, Jr. had been elected Governor of Texas. Regardless, he made his mark on Texas history. Claytie was the quintessential Permian Basin entrepreneur. When I think about West Texas and Midland, I think about oil, ranching and a never-give-up spirit — all three of which Clayton W. Williams Jr. embodied.
About the author: David Porter has served as a Railroad Commissioner (2011–17) and Chairman (2015–16), as well as Vice Chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (2016). Prior to service on the Commission, Porter spent 30 years in Midland, Texas, as a CPA working with oil and gas producers, service companies and royalty owners. Since leaving the Commission, Porter works as a consultant for oil and gas companies. He also serves as Chairman of the 98th Meridian Foundation, a nonprofit concerned with water, energy and land issues.