A Breed So Rare: The Life of J. R. Parten, Liberal Texas Oil Man, 1896–1992


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1950, he is more stamped on the public perception than the Texas oil man. During the 1980s a Texas oil man named J. R. Parten was ending a remarkable career that spanned most of the twentieth century. However, he remains somewhat anonymous despite the significant roles he played in Texas and the nation. Through interviews and access to Parten’s personal papers, the author tells the story of the oil man’s life. After studying at the University of Texas, he served in World War I as the youngest major in the field artillery. He entered the oil business in 1919, establishing million-dollar energy businesses. While serving on the UT Board of Regents from 1935 to 1941, Parten increased the university’s income from its oil holdings. In addition to this, he fought for academic excellence and freedom of speech for students and faculty.

During World War II, Parten was vocal in developing the “Big Inch” and “Little Inch” pipelines of fuel for the Allied war effort. A lifelong Democrat, Parten was involved in state and national politics. In 1950, he helped establish the Fund for the Republic in to counter threats to basic civil liberties during the Red Scare. His support for the Texas Observer and for sometimes unpopular politicians and ideas brought important liberal ideas to the national stage. As a generous philanthropist and political activist, Parten supported world peace and opposed nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War. A man who stood firmly behind his beliefs, Parten was a quiet doer in a culture that is more likely to recognize the flamboyant gesture. He held fast to his principles, but as a lifelong learner, he was always willing to change. J. R. Parten was a man who made a difference.


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