At T. Boone Pickens’ 80th birthday party, he gave an invisible but life-altering gift to Anne and Michael Greenwood.
The Greenwoods and other members of the Oklahoma State community congregated on Library Lawn to celebrate Pickens on May 22, 2008. In typical Pickens fashion, he was donating $100 million for OSU faculty endowment.
His words inspired the Greenwoods, OSU alumni who had chosen to retire in Stillwater, more than the large sum of money could have.
“He made comments about, basically, we should give now, not later, because you don’t get the chance to see the impact that you can have,” Anne Greenwood said. “And it struck a huge chord with my husband Michael and I.”
Pickens, an OSU alumnus and energy magnate, died at 91 on Sept. 11 after decades of witnessing the ways his generous contributions transformed his alma mater. OSU honored him with a Celebration of Life on Wednesday afternoon in Gallagher-Iba Arena, adjacent to the football stadium that bears his name.
Anne Greenwood, a speaker at the event, recalled how Pickens gave her and Michael Greenwood a gift of empowerment, a gift of belief in their dreams to make a difference at the college they love. It started with his speech at the birthday party.
As a fan of Cowgirl and Cowboy tennis, Anne Greenwood had determined it was nearly impossible for these teams to attract crowds because no facility had been built for them, forcing them to either play at the Colvin Recreation Center or travel to other towns. This bothered her, but she didn’t have a firm belief that she and her husband had the power to do something about it until she heard Pickens’ talk.
The Greenwoods have become prominent OSU donors and served as the primary benefactors for the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center, which opened about six years after Pickens’ 80th birthday celebration.
“My life is completely different because (Pickens’) life touched mine,” Anne Greenwood said.
Her fellow speakers at the Celebration of Life shared this perspective. Those who knew Pickens have used words that include “bigger than a legend,” “change agent,” “pioneer,” “dynamic” and “ultimate Cowboy” to paint a powerful picture of him. OSU athletic director Mike Holder described him as a father figure and a friend. Football coach Mike Gundy said his son Gage texted him after Pickens died and asked, “Well, who’s gonna be the boss now?”
The Celebration of Life reflected Pickens’ unprecedented influence on OSU. The Cowboy Marching Band started it with the upbeat drums and horns of OSU fight songs, creating an environment reminiscent of the football game day atmosphere that Pickens helped create with his NCAA-record-setting $165 million donation to revamp the stadium.
Ten years ago, a mullet-less Gundy stood beside Pickens, who held oversized scissors to cut the bright orange ribbon at the opening of Boone Pickens Stadium. Gundy said he never saw Pickens prouder than he was on Sept. 5, 2009, before the Cowboys defeated Georgia in their upgraded venue.
“I could see it in his face, I could see it in his eyes on the walk before the Georgia game,” Gundy said. “He was bursting with pride, and it was pride in his university, in the place that he loved.”
Although Pickens watched OSU evolve because of him, he couldn’t see the full extent of his alma mater’s gratitude for him. President Burns Hargis said he wishes a statue of Pickens, which is in the works, could have stood on campus when Pickens was alive.
The statue, like Pickens’ legacy, isn’t finished, but Pickens made sure he could see as much of his impact as possible. His action-focused mentality was apparent in a quote that appeared in a tribute video at the Celebration of Life.
“If you are going to run with the big dogs,” Pickens said, “you have to get out from under the porch.”
Pickens didn’t simply run. He encouraged others to run with him, something Anne Greenwood never forgets.
“Honest to goodness, Boone Pickens taught us in so many ways and inspired us in so many ways to think that anything is possible,” Anne Greenwood said. “And so that’s a huge gift, and I appreciate it, and that’s one of the things that we’re absolutely gonna miss.”