'His legacy will live on forever': Influential leaders reflect about how T. Boone Pickens touched their lives at his Celebration of Life

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Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy speaks during the Celebration of Life for T. Boone Pickens, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. 

Crowds of students, alumni, friends and family arrived at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Wednesday with one thing in common: their admiration for T. Boone Pickens.

The celebration of Pickens’ life began with the Cowboy Marching Band playing the fight songs while everyone in the arena clapped and chanted along.

Larry Reece, Sr. Associate Athletic Director, began the ceremony by reminding the audience that now is not the time to mourn.

“As you can tell, this is going to be more of a pep rally than a memorial,” Reece said. “Today is not a somber occasion. Today is a day we celebrate our number one fan, the leader of the band and a man that left us better than he found us.”

Along with Reece, speakers at the celebration of life included Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, President Burns Hargis, philanthropist Anne Greenwood, football coach Mike Gundy and OSU athletic director Mike Holder spoke.

Each speaker not only expressed their gratitude for Pickens’ contributions to the university, but also shared a personal story of a time Pickens made an impact on their lives.

Reece spoke of the difficult time in his life when he was diagnosed with throat cancer and how Pickens was there for him.

“When I called Boone, he assured me by saying, ‘Larry, by the end of the day, you will have a phone call from MD Anderson and you will be in good hands,’” Reece said. “I’m now standing here four years and eight months cancer free because of the prayer posse, a lot of you, and because of my friend, Boone Pickens.”

Gov. Stitt, an OSU alumnus, spoke of the three pieces of advice he received from Pickens during his run for governor.

“Number one, he said, be willing to make decisions. Or, as he said it to me that day, you can aim, aim, aim but eventually, you’ve got to fire,” Stitt said. “And number two, he said, learn from your mistakes, because Kevin, you’re going to make a bunch of them.”

Stitt said the third piece of advice resonated with him the most.

“Number three, he said, be humble and hold fast to faith, as it is the compass that guides us, even in dark times,” Stitt said.

Philanthropist Anne Greenwood reflected on a statement Pickens made that changed her life forever.

“He said, quite simply, ‘I don’t understand why people wait until they're gone to give back, so they can’t see the difference they have made,’” Greenwood said. “That profound statement struck a chord with Mike and I.”

Coach Gundy spoke of the happiness Pickens felt on the opening of Boone Pickens Stadium.

“When it finally opened, I could see it in his eyes, he had a feeling that was just different than I had ever seen,” Gundy said. “He was bursting with pride. It was pride in his university, in the place he loved.”

For athletic director Mike Holder, Pickens was his best friend and a father figure.

Holder met Pickens in 1973 through a mutual friend, Jerry Walsh, at an OSU golf fundraiser.

While Holder always admired Pickens as a businessman, they didn’t grow to be close friends until 1995 when their mutual friend Jerry Walsh passed away in a tragic car accident.

Pickens invited Holder to hunt quail with him at his ranch in Pampa, Texas.

“I wasn’t a quail hunter,” Holder said. “But I knew that he needed somebody, so I took that invitation and went to hunt quail with him. Little did I know what I was about to experience.”

From 1995 to 2000, Holder spent many days at the ranch with Pickens.

“Hunting quail with Boone Pickens and getting to spend time at the ranch, I can’t tell you how special that was,” Holder said. “He was a coach with hunting quail and he was a life coach. I don’t know what was better, the quail hunting or the dinners and conversations we had.”

Holder said some of the best memories of his life were spent hunting quail with Boone Pickens.

“Those five years were the greatest five years of my life, I would go back there tomorrow,” Holder said. “If I had to pick when to go back and spend time with Boone Pickens, I want to go back before all the money and all the success, I want to go back and hunt quail at the ranch.

“He changed my whole life in those five years. The way I thought about my job, the way I thought about the world, the way I thought about success, the way I treated people. All of it was because of mostly the way he treated me and everybody around him at the ranch,” Holder said. “He treated everybody as equal. He was really a giant among men that acted like the common man.”

President Hargis spoke of the bond Boone and Holder shared at a press conference before the ceremony.

“Sometimes, Boone would say about Mike, ‘That guy makes me so mad,’” Hargis said. “You know, there is nobody more stubborn on Earth than Mike. If he didn’t want to do something Boone wanted to do, it didn’t happen. It made Boone crazy. It was like a father-son relationship.”

The ceremony was closed with the crowd cheering Boone Pickens name and singing the alma mater.

Accounting junior Spencer Webster said the ceremony was a great way to celebrate Pickens life.

“I loved hearing about all the amazing things Boone has done, not only this university, but for everyone he encountered in life,” Webster said. “His legacy will live on forever.”