Monday, May 21, 2012

China Memories

Don's China exploration commenced in 1979

Dear Jeanne, Tim, and McGirk family,

So sorry to hear the very sad news of Don's passing on Wednesday morning (May 9), that would be very hard for Jeanne for they had depended on each other so much, a very fun and caring couple.
 (I am an engineer, the way I write is much like the way I talk, nothing beautiful, but to convey the point I wish to make).

 I came to know them in 1980 when I began to be involved in developing Texaco/Chevron's China operation, and Don was my most close mentor. Don was straight forward, to the point, very much like a marine in action. Those were  fun years working with Don together, and sometimes Jeanne showed up to help too -  truly  teamwork in action. We were successful to secure the 1st ever PSC (Production Sharing Contract) between China and foreign companies. The PSC was signed in Beijing before Xmas 1983, and Don retired a couple days later at a farewell party hosted by then Texaco CEO Al DeCrane at the beautiful Regent Hotel in Hong Kong.

In 1980, Texaco and Chevron were helping the Chinese to develop an onshore oil field in southern Manchuria through the application of steam injection. Don and I were a part of a small team to make the field trip just before Xmas to gather data and information. We shipped a Xerox copier, the top line machine available at the time. We assembled the machine together, the drum was turning but failed to produce copy! We checked here and there, we the team members, the ex-marine, the top geologist, the sensible engineer, just not able to make the Xerox to work, so we have to copy the information page by page, and map by map, by hand, with a lot of help from the Chinese of course, all worked very hard day after day for about two weeks in the unheated warehouse in the oil field, Don was fortunate to have the thermal underwear picked up by Jeanne at Macy (thought it was in red color, we all had a good laugh! for her choice and taste) when the team met in Chevron's office in San Francisco to prepare for the field trip. Later on we found out it was a simple matter to make the copier to work, we just failed to have the magic touch!  

Don, my dear friend and mentor, Don's long years with Texaco were full of excitement, success and satisfaction wherever he was working, from  Colombia, Venezuela, and in the Amazon jungle in  South America, to Spain and the UK North Sea, then to South China Sea in the Asian Pacific. I tend to think that Don had the ability to smell where to tap the oil reservoirs onshore or offshore. In fact, Texaco had picked the best block offered by the Chinese in the 1st offshore bidding round and we soon made the 1st commercial discovery in the South China Sea in 1985, the Huizhou Oil Field, producing since 1989. One place Don would love to visit is the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang in the remote Northwestern part of China, its vast desert is the Texas size! I could only tell him about it when Texaco/Chevron/Agip began to explore there in the 1990's.

Following Don's retirement from Texaco, we stayed in touch by phone calls or visits. We visited Don and Jeanne at their apartment at Sloane Square in London. One time I went from New York to London for Jeanne's birthday, After they moved back to Santa Cruz, we visited them several times, and began to note Don's slowing and failing health with time. We were able to engage our friends David and Florence Kuo who live in Scotts Valley to keep an eye on the well being of Don and Jeanne. Eventually, they come to an arrangement for Florence to send nurses for home care when needed.

We will all miss Don so much, an outstanding oilman, and a very caring person in many ways! I am short of utterance to express my feeling toward Don and Jeanne and the McGirk family!

With love,

YM and Wanda Shum

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Local Coverage

The Santa Cruz Sentinel saluted Don. (But oops. Surely the headline writer meant WWII vet, not Pearl Harbor Vet. Oh well).  They used this Happy Snap and did a phone interview, too.

Click this image twice to see the feature story that ran in the newspaper.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Husband, Father, Grandfather, Oilman, Golfer, Straight Shooter

Ninety-four years - a life well-lived.
Don's last passport photo

Out on the town with his vivacious wife, Jeanne. 
Jeanne & Don pose with his new aeroplane in Colombia
Bogart-like In Bogota

With Sailfish in Acapulco in the late 50s

Semper Fi - once a Marine, always a Marine 
Life was a gas!
  • Favorite Songs : Nat King Cole  Walking My Baby Back Home and Dean Martin crooning Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime. Favorite carol: Silver Bells
  •  Sport: Golf. (Don was a skier, waterskier and duck and pheasant hunter too.  And could run hurdles and perform dives off the 3 meter springboard. He parasailed behind motorboats and piloted his own plane in Colombia. Joked every Christmas about wanting a Beechcraft Bonanza)
  • Drink: Scotch.  Martini: Dry.
  • Collected antique maps and wooden decoy mallards, and preferred big dogs.
  • Don WALKED during most of his illness...sometimes 7 walks per day!
  • Last Car: a 1999 Pontiac Firebird
  • Missing him.

from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (21)

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

Translated by Edward FitzGerald

Don's ashes have been interred next to the Lion Fountain at Santa Cruz Memorial Cemetery
(Independent Order of Oddfellows Cemetery) 1927 Ocean Street Ext, Santa Cruz CA

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Early in the morning on May 9, just before 2 am, Don breathed his last. His wife Jeanne and only son Tim were at his side. Rest in Peace, Mac.  November 28, 1917 - May 9, 2012
DONALD DEA McGIRK Petroleum explorer, geologist, angler, pilot, sportsman, marksman, Marine. Born 17 Nov 1917 in Smeltzer (Huntington Beach) California. Died 09 May 2012 in Santa Cruz, California
Donald Dea McGirk, 94, who passed away on May 9th in Santa Cruz, was a geologist at the forefront of petroleum exploration in South America, Europe, and China.
 McGirk enlisted in the Marine Corps on July 12, 1941, after graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he had competed as a hurdler on the track team. From Officers’ Training School in Quantico, Virginia, Don shipped out to the Pacific theater soon after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The brass decided that since he was a scientist (never mind that rocks were his specialty), he could calibrate angles and distances. So Don was assigned to artillery, hammering the Japanese on one Pacific island after another until the war ended.
Don left the Marines on March 30, 1946 with the rank of Captain. Just when Don thought he had seen the last of tropical jungles and mosquitoes, Texaco gave him a machete, surveying equipment and a hand-cranked radio and sent him to the Amazons as a field geologist to search for oil. He and his Indian crew survived on fish, roasted monkey and a crate of pickled pigs feet that a Texaco quartermaster inexplicably ordered to be airdropped on their river campsite.
Out in the jungle, Don had been pining for his high school sweetheart, Jeanne Keeler, and once back in civilization, he sent her a telegram proposing marriage: “How about seeing whether I go bald or turn grey?” Jeanne, who had graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in psychology and was teaching in Central America, couldn’t resist this romantic invitation and they were married in Panama on January 7, 1947. Their only child, Timothy, was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1952.
Don returned to the jungle, astride his favorite mule Carissima, leaving Jeanne and Tim in Roblecito, an oil camp in the Venezuelan wilderness where at cocktail hour, the geologists and their wives would gather at the edge of the camp to watch a giant Boa descend from a tree and slither off in search of prey. Surviving hungry snakes and malaria, Don rose to become Texaco’s Chief Geologist for Colombia, Peru, Colombia again, and then Spain. Don was in Spain for 8 years and discovered the country’s only oilfield, Ayaluengo; when oil was struck, he was there, showering himself in the black crude blowing off of the rig.
From Spain, the McGirks moved to London where Don became Texaco’s Vice-President in charge of Exploration in the North Sea. His golf game improved; he hit a phenomenal five holes-in-one during his lifetime dedication to the most vexing of sports. He was memorably attacked by a sprinkler at Wentworth Golf Course and broke his leg.
After his success at finding oil in deep water, where the drilling platforms were often battered by 100 foot waves, Don packed up and in 1979 moved to Hong Kong where the Red Chinese were opening up their offshore waters to the major western oil companies. As Managing Director of Texaco Orient, Don was in charge of deciding which would be the offshore areas most likely to have oil, and for Texaco to lease. Don loved his job and retired in 1984, after 37 years of service in the oil patch.
Don and wife Jeanne retired in London and then moved to Santa Cruz, California in 1999. They entertained visiting friends, barked back at the seals cavorting in the surf, and Don frequented the golf driving range where his shots stayed long and true. Over the bar at home, Don proudly displayed (along with a photo of himself as a Marine with several bare-breasted South Sea island belles) a framed letter from Texaco’s Chairman of the Board, a “Resolution of Affection bestowed on D.D. McGirk as Explorationist, Manager, Marine, Golfer and Martini-maker par excellence.”
Of all those accomplishments, it was being a Marine that probably made Don the most proud; he and Jeanne found great joy in re-uniting with Don’s Marine buddies and their families during the yearly reunions. Getting to know his grandsons as adults was a delight, too.
Father, George McGirk, farmer, oil driller and gun club owner; Mother, Florence (Floss) Murdy McGirk, homemaker & landlady. Survived by his wife, Jeanne Keeler McGirk (married in Panama, 1947) and his son Timothy, both of Santa Cruz, plus two grandsons, James McGirk of New York City and Sean McGirk of Taloqan, Afghanistan ..........