Oil and gas pioneer, philanthropist remembered by family members, friends
Tom Dugan died in his sleep after preparing to go to work Tuesday
FARMINGTON — Megan Rains, granddaughter of Farmington oilman and philanthropist Tom Dugan, won’t be the first to say that her grandfather was an exceptional man, if in his own way.
“It’s common that people say on their own deathbed that they wished they had spent more time doing other things than work. Tom Dugan’s the only exception I know,” Rains said today in her grandfather’s office. “He loved his work, he was committed to his company, and there was nothing more that he wanted to do every day than to come down and be around nice people. He was very loyal to them, and they were loyal to him, so there’s one exception to that phrase, and that’s Tom.”
Tom Dugan died Tuesday at his Farmington home. He was 91 years old.
Dugan was born on Nov. 24, 1925, near Oil Hill, Kan., according to his friends and family. He spent his childhood and adolescence on the outskirts of Potwin, Kan., a farming community with an oil refinery whose population was so small that it could often count the number of graduating seniors on two hands, “so if you wanted to play sports you could make the team pretty easy,” said Farmington resident Carl Matthews, Dugan’s childhood neighbor and longtime friend.
“We hunted and fished and all that kind of stuff … just normal things,” Matthews said. “And we all worked in the summer, most of us for the farmers, and after we got old enough, we worked in the refinery.”
Summer jobs at the refinery began a long career in the oil and gas industry for Dugan. After serving in the 44th Tank Battalion during World War II — for which he earned a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart Award — Dugan graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1950 with a degree in petroleum engineering, according to his family.
Shortly after graduating, he met and married his wife, Mary Elizabeth Mott, in August 1950, and the newlyweds moved to Farmington, which they and their son, Sherman, would call home.
Dugan worked for several oil and gas companies, including the Pacific Northwest Pipeline Corp. and the Phillips Petroleum Corp., before he began his own business in 1959.
“He always said they were a very independent oil and gas producer, and he emphasized very,” said John Dean, a longtime friend of the Dugan family.
Using the philosophy of “never give up leases” and Dugan’s “uncanny knack for picking up acreage,” the Dugan Production Corp. grew to be successful and has established itself as a locally owned and operated company that is invested in its community and employees, according to Kurt Fagrelius, a vice president and 40-year employee of the company.
Dugan led his company with a mild-mannered but direct management style. John Alexander, another vice president who has worked at Dugan Productions since 1989, said that “no was a complete sentence” to Dugan and you never left a conversation confused about what he thought.
Fagrelius said though Dugan was soft spoken, he was also stern and held high expectations of his employees, many of whom have worked for the company for decades.
“He motivated people by setting his own example,” Fagrelius said. “He would come in at 8 o’clock in the morning and go home at 6 p.m. He was putting in 10-hour days himself, and much of that was just to be available to the workers here.”
His work was a driving force in his life — Dugan’s grandson Sean Dugan said the 91-year-old was even dressed and prepared to go to the office the day of his death.
“His final wish of his life was, ‘Get me to the office,’’’ Sean Dugan said. “That’s literally the last request he had, and we were going to honor that, but he sat down, and he took his last breaths (after) he fell asleep.”
To his family, Dugan was more than just the epitome of the American dream as a Depression era-born and GI bill-educated veteran who became a self-made man, Rains said.
“He definitely had a big impact and will leave a lasting legacy. For us personally, it’s a huge loss for Papa being gone, but I can definitely feel Mr. Dugan’s impact, and it’s here and it will remain in Farmington for many, many years to come,” Rains said.
Dugan was active in the Bethany Christian Church in Farmington and was engaged in San Juan College, along with its foundation and museum programs.
Besides losing “one of the biggest philanthropists” in the Four Corners, Dugan’s death also signals a loss of one of the San Juan Basin’s pioneers, Fagrelius said.
“He’s the last of his breed, so it’s hard to say what that’s going to mean for the future," Fagrelius said. "It’s going to leave a hole, a vacuum. ... He ran a really full life.”
Dugan was preceded in death by his wife, Mary; and son, Sherman.
He is survived by his granddaughter, Megan (Jason) Rains; grandson Sean (Adina) Dugan; and great-granddaughter, Eleanor Dugan.
Dugan’s family asked that donations be made to the San Juan College Foundation in his name or memory in lieu of flowers.
A memorial is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Nov. 18 at the Henderson Fine Arts Building at San Juan College, with a reception to follow in the Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology in the college’s School of Energy.
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or email@example.com.