5 Things Texans Know About Rex Tillerson, Trump's Possible Secretary of State

The name Rex Tillerson is now an international talking point. The head of Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, is the favorite to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of State. (Update: the Trump transition team confirmed his his selection on Tuesday.) Energy industry figures, Russian government bureaucrats and target-seeking environmentalists may know his name, but to the rest of the nation he’s an unknown quantity. Tillerson has lived nearly his whole life in Texas, which means we’ve had a closer look at Tillerson over the years. Here’s a few tidbits about our neighbor, whose name now dominates the news cycle.

1) He’s the product of a Boy Scout love affair.
If it weren’t for the Boy Scouts, there would be no Rex Tillerson. Literally. Bob Tillerson, the oil executive’s father, has been involved in the scouts his whole life. He met his mother, Patty, when she visited the Boy Scout camp where he worked as a teen. In 1959 Bob Tillerson attended a national training school at Schiff Scout Reservation in New Jersey (see page 4 of this newsletter for more details) and made a career within the organization, retiring while working with the Sam Houston Council. Not surprisingly, young Rex also pursued Scouting and reached the rank of Eagle. Like his dad, he was part of Alpha Phi Omega, a fraternity that only took Scouts as members until 1968. The Scouting lessons seemed to have stuck: At Exxon Mobile, he even instituted a coin-based reward system that looked a lot like merit badges, as chronicled by Steve Coll in his book, Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power.

2) He’s an Exxon — and Texas — lifer.
For a guy with a multinational corporation and possible desk at the State Department, Tillerson is pretty Texas-centric. And he tends to stick with organizations. He joined Exxon Company U.S.A. in 1975 as a production engineer, and by 1989, he became general manager of the company’s central production division, responsible for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas. His career is a steady rise, managing the development of big oilfields across the world, from Yemen to Russia. Through all of this, he stayed in Texas.

3) He was the guy who transitioned the Boy Scouts to allow gay members.
Rex Tillerson remained active in the Boy Scouts, even as his professional stature inside Exxon Mobile rose. In 2010, he became the president of the Boys Scouts of America. He’s best known for steering the organization after its delegate voted to allow gay members. This acknowledged conservative, who ran a company with a behind-the-curve position toward same-sex relationships and that had prayers before meetings long after others’ stopped, offered a surprisingly conciliatory approach. “Something about change we all have to remember; you really do get swamped with what is changing. It’s overwhelming,” he told an annual BSA meeting in 2013. “It’s really useful to step back and look at everything and recognize what’s not changing. More often than not, most things are not changing.” The Boy Scouts of America began admitted gay scouts in 2013, and signed off on gay troop leaders in 2015.

4) He’s into horses.
The Tillerson family owns Bar RR Ranches, located in Bartonville. The luxurious, $5 million ranch specializes in breeding and training cutting horses. Those are the kind that trot into a herd of cattle and escort out a single calf. It takes a smart horse and a talented rider to do this. There’s an entire rodeo universe surrounding cutting horses, and it has its own economy. On one day in December, 144 cutting horses sold for $4,077,900. Bar RR Ranches' resident trainer, Clint McDaniel, routinely shows up in the leaderboards at rodeos. “We give God the glory for allowing us the opportunity to ‘Live the Dream’ and share our achievements with you,” the ranch’s website says. The family enjoys and promotes the western lifestyle. In 2012 the Cowgirl Museum bestowed The Fern Sawyer Award to Rex Tillerson’s wife, Renda. Named after a champion cowgirl from the 1970s, the award honors those who “contributed to the advancement of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.”

5) He doesn’t like energy infrastructure in his backyard.
Tillerson’s public face seems pretty well under control, but he suffered a stumble in 2014 when he joined a lawsuit to try to stop the construction of a water tower close to his ranch. The complaint mentions the tower would be used for hydraulic fracking, which would increase truck traffic and noise in the area. He should have seen what came next: environmentalists and anti-fracking North Texans labeled him a hypocrite for setting up oil and gas infrastructure around the world, but fighting it when it sprung up in his backyard. The family dropped out of the lawsuit later that year after a judge dismissed their claim.
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Joe Pappalardo is the former editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Joe Pappalardo

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