TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma oilman Llewellyn O. "Lew" Ward, the founder and chairman of the Ward Petroleum Corporation who championed the industry locally and nationally, has died. He was 85.
Ward, who also was active in Republican politics and a past president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, died on Sunday of natural causes, according to the Henninger-Hinson Funeral Home in Enid. His son said a memorial service would be held Thursday in Enid, where the company is based.
"The vision and leadership that Lew provided to Ward Petroleum was second perhaps only to the personal impact he made on the lives of so many people both in the local community and in the oil and gas industry," Bill Ward said in a statement.
The elder Ward was a Korean War veteran who graduated with a petroleum engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1953, according to the company. He drilled his first well a decade later, and founded the Ward Petroleum Corporation in 1971. The company has drilled hundreds of wells and operates more than 200 oil and gas properties, including in Colorado.
During the oil boom from 1979 to 1983, his company grew to more than 200 employees. And when the oil bust hit in the mid-1980s — causing many oil and gas companies to fail — Ward's company boasted that it was the only drilling contractor to pay off its debt "in full and on time."
Andi Holland, director of the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, told the Enid News & Eagle that Ward and his wife, Myra, were a driving force behind an effort that helped raise $10 million to expand the center. The facility focuses on the massive land run on Sept. 16, 1893, when more than 100,000 people raced for homesteads and town lots across some 6 million acres in northwest Oklahoma, and the lives of those homesteaders, according to its website.
"He had a true pride for those who came and settled this part of Oklahoma in the land run — their bravery, entrepreneurship — and he was a great entrepreneur himself and the spirit of perseverance," Holland told the newspaper. "The spirit of perseverance and determination was really important to him."
Ward also had served as a chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and on the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce.
"Lew Ward was one of Oklahoma's great wildcatters," OIPA President Mike Terry said. "His passion for the oil and natural gas industry was unmatched. His service to this industry is unrivaled, and his leadership will be truly missed."
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin also praised Ward, calling him "one of the oilfield pioneers" who helped make Oklahoma a leader in the energy industry.
"He devoted his career to developing oil and gas resources that continue to fuel our nation," Fallin said in a statement Monday. "All the while, he selflessly supported a variety of community causes. He will be missed."
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cole noted Ward's strong devotion to GOP politics, calling him "a rock solid Republican."
"Lew supported the Republican party in every way possible," Cole said. "He served as a precinct and county official, attended countless county, state and national party meetings and believed in the future of the Republican Party long before it became the majority in Oklahoma."
Along with his son and wife, Ward is survived by a daughter, Casidy, according to the company.