By DAN HOLTMEYER
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Texas oil magnate, billionaire philanthropist and Oklahoma State University megabooster T. Boone Pickens was honored Thursday at the state Capitol with the unveiling of a portrait by Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer.
Pickens is the fifth person to have a portrait displayed in the Capitol while still living, said former State Sen. Charlie Ford, who heads the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund. There are more than 100 other works in the building.
“It’s a big day,” Pickens said at the ceremony, adding of Wimmer’s portrait, “I think he did it better than I am.”
State officials, legislators and OSU officials and alumni — groups that often overlap — gathered for the unveiling in the Governor’s Blue Room. Nearly all wore OSU orange in support of Pickens’ alma mater.
The mood was light, and many speakers jokingly made digs at Pickens, to which he usually responded in kind.
“Boone always reminds me that no one’s here because of me,” OSU President Burns Hargis said. “It’s fitting that this ceremony is on Valentine’s, because Boone, Oklahoma loves you.”
Gov. Mary Fallin, who joined members of her cabinet and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb at the event, said Pickens exemplifies Oklahoma spirit and the honor was “probably long past due.”
“Future generations of Oklahomans can look at it and say, ‘I want to be like that man,’ “ Fallin said.
Pickens was repeatedly praised Thursday for retaining his ties to the state throughout his business success. Pickens credited his grandmother Nellie Molonson for inspiring him to keep Oklahoma in mind.
“She’s the one who said, well, two or three things, but one of them was, ‘Don’t ever forget where you came from,”’ he said. “I wish that grandmother was here.”
Pickens grew up in Holdenville, Okla., where he first entered business with a newspaper delivery route. As an adult, he started and acquired a string of oil companies, becoming a billionaire in the process.
He has since donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable organizations in Oklahoma and Texas, according to his foundation’s website. The bulk of that money has gone to OSU.
He has pledged to donate at least half of his fortune in his lifetime.
“It’s easy for me to say that I know now that his works and his actions will far outlive my painting,” Wimmer said. “And I just want to say thank you for letting me be a part of it.”