'The greatest Cowboy' legacy: the life of T. Boone Pickens

Boone Pickens Photo

Boone Pickens speaks at a TED Conference in 2012. 

Donating nearly $652 million to the success and betterment of Oklahoma State, T. Boone Pickens ranks high on the list of Cowboy greats, if not the highest.

“The greatest Cowboy of them all has taken his last ride," OSU athletic director Mike Holder said. "It will never be the same again."

Pickens had been battling back from a series of strokes and further head injuries sustained as a result of a fall in 2017, but he died of natural causes on Sept. 11, 2019 while surrounded by his friends and family, according to his spokesman Jay Rosser.

“Mr. Pickens is a big part of our success, and we’re thankful for the lasting impact he’s had on Oklahoma State,” Mike Gundy said. “He’ll be missed, but his legacy will live on for a long time to come.”

From becoming a billionaire after his 1951 graduation from OSU’s Geology program to the construction of Boone Pickens Stadium, Pickens gave OSU a name and a place on the map.

He approached his alma mater the same way he approached business: to generate success, one must be willing to invest time, money and energy to be competitive. And that he did.

In 2006, he donated $165 million to the athletic program alone, the largest single donation in NCAA history, according to ESPN. 

His contribution funded a total renovation of the athletic facilities and led to the unveiling of Boone Pickens Stadium in 2009. Since then, OSU’s football program has had six 10-or-more-win seasons.

But his contributions aren’t limited to athletics, with nearly half of his overall donations going to academics. Like football stadium, OSU’s geology department bears the name Boone Pickens.

After being the first child born via Caesarean section in Holdenville, Pickens continued to be a man of firsts. He became the first person in his Great Depression-era family to make a million dollars then a billion.  

Initially, Pickens had enrolled at Texas A&M on a basketball scholarship. After losing his scholarship sophomore year, he transferred to Oklahoma A&M (before its 1957 name change to Oklahoma State University).

In an edition of Texas A&M’s 12th Man Magazine, Texas A&M cited its decision to not renew Pickens' scholarship as one of the top 10 mistakes in Aggie history.

Pickens went on to become an incredibly successful oil tycoon, changing the energy industry and shaping American access to foreign markets. Pickens also invested in renewable wind energy before his retirement in 2018.

In his time, he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, named one of the “Greatest Living Business Minds” by Forbes, and inducted into the Oklahoma (as well as Texas) Hall of Fame. Pickens’ legacy stretches far past the city limits of Stillwater.

Since the announcement of his death, numerous athletes, businesspeople and friends have reached out on social media honoring Pickens’ legacy as an integral part of the Cowboy family.

"We could never thank him enough for all that he did for our university,” Holder said. “He gave us everything he had, and all that he asked in return was that we play by the rules and dream big. He was living proof that anything is possible if you’re wearing orange. ‘Great ride Cowboy, great ride!’”

Oklahoma State announced that it will be having a “Celebration of Life” ceremony in his honor at the historic Gallagher-Iba Arena to commemorate his legacy. A legacy that, according to Holder and others, is the greatest Cowboy legacy of all time.