James B. Crawley, Oil and Gas Company Founder, dies at 96.
Understated and pensive, Mr. Crawley rose from modest depression-era beginnings to become a respected business leader and philanthropist. He died peacefully April 4, 2023, at his home in Norman, Oklahoma.
James Benjamin “Jim” Crawley was born at home August 5, 1926, in Simsboro, Louisiana, a village of fewer than a thousand residents, to John Earl Crawley and Lottie (Robison) Crawley. He spent his childhood years in various oil field towns in north Louisiana and east Texas. His father worked in the oil fields as a “switcher,” a lease operator or pumper. Mr. Crawley was a lifelong reader who credited his strong morals and integrity to books he read as a child, such as the Horatio Alger series.
Modest by nature and averse to self-promotion, Mr. Crawley would describe his high school 10-Man football career as, “a third string player on a team of 20.” An Eagle Scout, he graduated from Spring Hill (Texas) High School in 1942 at age 16 and directly entered Texas A&M University, taking to heart FDR’s emphasis on the importance of education. A component of being a student at A&M was being in the Corps of Cadets, and he chose the Army Air Corps as his affiliation. In 1945, he was called to duty and returned to Texas A&M after the war ended. He completed his degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1947. He wore his Aggie ring on his left ring finger for the rest of his life.
Mr. Crawley’s professional career began in the oil and gas industry as a field engineer in west Texas. After a number of years in and around Midland, at the urging of his sister Mary Ann, whose husband Chuck was studying law at Harvard Law School, Mr. Crawley enrolled in Harvard Business School’s Middle Management program. He graduated with an MBA in 1956.
In Paris during a break from business school, after a breakfast served at an American-style restaurant, Mr. Crawley met by happenstance a young secretary, Mary “Molly” Williamson of Norwood, Massachusetts. A friend of hers noticed Jim drinking milk with his breakfast, and the novelty of that compelled her friend to introduce herself. They ended up in Molly’s car with Jim in the front seat, and the group spent the day sightseeing – a day etched in both their memories. It was a short courtship; Molly returned home for Christmas and six months later, following Jim’s graduation, they embarked upon their 64-year marriage. Perhaps unsurprisingly given that they had met abroad, the two continued to travel throughout the years, sometimes just themselves, and other times with their family or friends. Over that time, they wore out several passports visiting every continent except Antarctica.
Following business school, Mr. Crawley again found employment in the oil and gas industry. After working for several years with a firm that raised investments for oil and gas operators, he joined Consolidated Production Corporation, which specialized in purchasing fractional interests in producing oil and gas properties. In 1972, under (now President) Mr. Crawley’s direction, the company was acquired by Petro-Lewis. Contemporaneous with the transaction, Petro-Lewis made available for sale a group of properties they chose not to keep. Mr. Crawley brought together a group of investors, formed Crawley Petroleum Corporation and purchased these properties.
Through the decades, the company grew and thrived under Mr. Crawley’s leadership. Thanks to his fair and deliberate decision-making and his lead-by-example style, the company has never laid off a single employee – even given the boom-and-bust nature of the oil and gas industry. Mr. Crawley’s singularly solid ethics and integrity, combined with his steady, careful approach, turned the company over time into one that has been referred to as “the biggest little company nobody knows about.” Its operations have grown to exceed 600 properties with interests in 13 states. A loyal team of 48 employees currently oversees this activity.
Molly and Jim Crawley had a long and loving marriage enriched by family, extensive travel, and philanthropy. They raised three daughters in a home filled with laughter, love and respect. With the same commitment he brought to his work, Mr. Crawley made his family feel capable and loved. He instilled in his daughters not only his values but also his love for reading and education, along with his penchant for travel and new experiences.
Active in his community, Mr. Crawley was generous with his time and resources. In 1994, Mr. Crawley created the Crawley Family Foundation. His broad philanthropic reach included First Presbyterian Church of Norman, his beloved alma maters, the University of Oklahoma, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the OKC Philharmonic, Friendship Bridge, Urban Mission, and Community Literacy, among others.
Mr. Crawley served as an officer or board member for several organizations including the Ministerial Advisory Council at Harvard Divinity School, the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Oklahoma City Texas A&M Club, and the First Presbyterian Church of Norman Foundation. He was a long-time member of the First Presbyterian Church of Norman and served several times as a member of the session, trustees, and deacons of the church.
Mr. Crawley is predeceased by his wife Molly and his sister Mary Ann Convis. He is survived by his daughters Sara Crawley, of Northampton, Massachusetts, Linda (Mark) Shirley, of Dallas, Texas, Martha (Will) Tracey, of Denver, Colorado, grandchildren Molly and Sam Tracey, and Liz and David Shirley, his sister, Charlotte Thomas, of Houston, Texas, and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the OKC Philharmonic, Urban Mission, or the charity of your choice.