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 ..........