John Ben Shepperd: Desk and Derrick Employers Appreciation Banquet

May 10, 1957

Desk and Derrick Employers Appreciation Banquet (Odessa, Texas)


. . . But I had better get to moving faster or you will be plugging me for a dry hole.

It is always with feelings of trepidation when I stand before an audience composed primarily of women, especially those who are smart enough to make their bosses feel like this is their night and maybe even feel like they are running their own businesses. I learned a long time ago that no one can size up a man the way a woman can and I have a profound respect for womanhood. As the poet put it: “The weaker sex is understood to mean the whole of womanhood, but I have yet to find the man who knows whom it is weaker than.”

People have always been fond of making up stories and repeating sayings about the ways of women. It is a well-known fact that men in general have a habit for repeating the stories. They like to refer to women as “weaker vessels” or “nature’s agreeable blunders”. They delight in groaning that the advice of a woman is worthless, but woe to the man who does not take it. Men would have you believe that women are like the weather—unpredictable, inescapable and irrestible.

There wouldn’t be so much talk about the fairer sex if women weren’t a pretty important subject. For a number of centuries now they have been building nations, causing wars and changing the course of history. There is one old saying that I believe is true—that while there is a world, a woman will govern it.

Down through history women have always been a source of trouble. The face of Helen launched a thousand ships and caused the destruction of Troy. Pandora opened the lid of a box and let out all the evils of the world. But in spite of these things, I want you to know I am not in favor of doing away with women.

It’s actually a woman’s world—at least they own and control most of it financially. Women own a majority of the stock in railroads, bus lines, utilities, steel and 44% of oil.

Women buy 90% of men’s neckties. Women spend 7 ½ out over 10 consumer dollars in this country and they have proved they can spend money more wisely than men with maybe one exception—last year women spent over $69 million on lipsticks.

They should have credit of course for the amount that rubbed off on men. You notice I didn’t say bosses.

Women spent $132 million on shampoos; $88 million on home permanents; $26.5 million on rinses, tints and dyes. Incidentally, more women are using these to become blondes—I suppose they have heard that gentlemen prefer—but then that’s another subject.

Last year women spent $66 million for cleansing cream; $52.8 million on make-up bases and a mere $8.8 million on eye make-up. This doesn’t include an additional $2.8 billion spent in beauty shops. But then girls will be girls or do their darndest to be.

Someone raised a very pertinent issue before this meeting started as to why I was selected to make this talk tonight when I had been associated with the oil business for such a short time.  There are three very good reasons. The first one is that I usually make a speech when I am asked; second, I know so little about the oil business that my speech could neither become belabored or hindered with facts; and last, but actually the controlling factor, I do it for nothing—or to be even more frank than that, Peggy Underwood got Mr. Noel to tell me to do it—so here I am.

I’m very happy for this chance to talk to some of the real reasons for the greatness of the oil industry. Everywhere I go the first thing I look for is the unsung heroines which includes practically all the women in the vicinity. I haven’t been in the petroleum branch of the oil business very long, but I was in politics for several years where we dealt in oil of a different kind. That’s why I figured I’d better start off with a little flattery—they say if a speaker doesn’t strike oil in the first few minutes’, he’d better stop boring.

I want you members of the Desk and Derrick to understand right off that I’m very grateful to you for helping me get started in the oil business. When I came out here to join Mr. Rodman and Mr. Noel, I seized an opportunity to attend a luncheon of the Desk and Derrick Club in Austin, hoping to pick up some of the basic terminology of the oil field. It got pretty basic a couple of times. Some of those girls belong up on a derrick. Some of them are built like a derrick too, but that’s beside the point.

Actually, there were very helpful to me although I misconstrued some of their terminology. I heard them use the terms, “wildcat”, “operator”, “crude”, “stripper”, ”gusher” and “blow-off” several times before I realized they were talking about one of the other members.

I can say with all seriousness that I’ve developed a great respect for the women of the oil business and allied industries as I see them here and t her working either for, with or on an oilman. Nature has given women so much power that I’m not surprised the law gives them so little. A lot of big oilmen would be out on a limb if they didn’t have their office girls, women assistants and partners to do the paper work, fill out the forms and do the figuring. I understand that a girl can belong to the Desk and Derrick Club if she gets as much as 50% of her income from the oil business. The ones I’ve seen are getting just about that percentage of what they’re worth.

But of course, I realize that your greatest compensations have nothing to do with your salary. You’re privileged to work in the romantic, fascinating oil business where you can hear Cadillacs purr and smell the expensive cigars. There’s nothing more fascinating than having expensive cigar smoke blown in your face.

It should give you some pride, however, to realize that you are working for a breed of men that is increasing in number and prestige. Statistically, if all the Texas oilmen now in business were laid end to end, it would meet with the unanimous approval of the Desk and Derrick Club.

Another reason why I was invited to be here on this occasion when you are honoring your bosses could be that I have been very successful in reducing the number of my bosses, which is worth considering at any time. This time last year I had over 8 ½ million bosses—all the people in Texas. Now I only have three: Mr. Rodman, Mr. Noel and my wife.

I suppose we are going to have to say something about the bosses since you have gotten them out here.

There is actually something very fascinating about people in the oil business and those work with them in the allied servicing industries. There are those who are unkind enough to say that people in the oil business—your bosses—don’t have a very high regard for the truth. But the fact is they value it very highly; that is why they are so economical with it. Remember though, there is one sure way tell if oil man is lying—if his mouth is open, he is lying.

Now that we have paid this tribute to bosses, I think we should go back to women. One of the most important events in the history of the oil business was the coming of women into the business. Historians are unable to say when the first woman was given a job in the oil industry, but we do know that as far back as the days of the Roman empire, Cleopatra anointed and massaged both Caesar and Mark Anthony with oil, so we can say that she was at least the first woman to make a living from the industry.

We have come a long way since Cleopatra’s time. Women have taken their rightful place beside men in the oil business and their contributions have been enormous. We spend a lot of time admiring the long-suffering pioneer women of Texas who not only had to put up with pioneering, but also with the pioneers, but we don’t stop often to pay tribute to the girl in the office who has to take dictation from a man with a cigar in his mouth, run interference for him in the outer office and keep the crackpots away, remind the boss to send flowers to his wife and take his pill at 3 o’clock, sit and listen sympathetically when he starts airing his troubles and turn smiles of adulation on him when he brags about his triumphs. They say the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world and all the little boys are not in the nursery.

So I guess it’s true that as long as there’s a world, women will run it. Men found out a long time ago that it doesn’t help much to be full of the old drive if you haven’t got a woman around to tell you where to go.

I have also been impressed by the fact that the Desk and Derrick is the only woman’s organization in the oil industry. I know of your fine work here in Odessa, of the educational programs that you have, your work with the Oil Show, the beautiful floats that have consistently won first place in the Oil Show Parade, your cooperation with the Oil Information Committee, your participation in the poll-tax drive and the very constructive seminar sponsored at Odessa College last year, at which time you brought in outstanding authorities on the oil industry to speak to your regional group.

I think it is imperative that this organization together with all segments of the oil industry stand united in meeting the present challenge on the part of misguided bureaucrats and power-hungry demagogues to take over the oil industry, lock, stock and barrel, and make it a socialistic pawn to buy votes, appease minorities and juggle from pillar to post.

The whole oil industry is slowly but surely moving under the complete control and domination of the federal government.  The gas industry is already there; the oil industry is on its way unless we are able to mobilize the thinking people of this nation to leave the development of this valuable natural resource in the hands of private enterprise and initiative, the very forces that have enabled it to make such a great contribution to our country. The new Harris Gas Bill is such a watered-down piece of legislation that very little, if any, relief would be afforded by its passage and adding insult to injury, the Eisenhower administration this week proposed two more crippling amendments that would weaken it even further.

Yes, you are in the oil business and the oil business is in politics. There is no more closely regulated, more heavily taxed industry in the state or the nation and you are a part of it. When it becomes socialized, don’t think you won’t be effected. Just talk to people in other countries who work for a socialized industry. Observe their long faces and blank expression. They are told when and where, how and with whom to work, where to live and they can’t even quit without government consent.

Yes, this is your fight. We long ago got rid of the idea that a woman’s place is only in the home and it is about time we got rid of the idea that a woman’s place is only behind a desk or in front of a filing cabinet. She belongs wherever her talents and abilities can be used and that includes the field of public affairs and the molding of public opinion.

And don’t say you don’t know anything about public affairs. Any girl who can sit filing her fingernails, chewing gum, chatting on the phone, typing a personal letter, reading the dress ads, listening to the office gossip out of one ear and look busy all at the same time can also stay abreast of public affairs.

How do you mold public opinion to preserve your job, preserve your industry, preserve America’s free enterprise system? You become active in civic affairs. You get in a position to make your voice heard and respected in your community.

And don’t say you can’t do this. Any girl who can run out to a 1 cent sale, read a fashion magazine in the little girls’ room, collect money for an office party or gift, go to the beauty shop on her lunch hour, take two coffee breaks, repair her snagged hose, fix her face three or four times and still get her work done would be a whirlwind on a civic committee.

Public affairs shouldn’t be a problem to a woman. Any girl who can work for three or four different bosses, none of whom is as smart as she is, and keep them all happy owes it to her country to be active in public affairs.

And as for her bosses—a lot of oilmen are sitting around private offices who belong in public service. They say that most of the men who have brains enough to run a government also have brains enough to stay out of it. But that isn’t the kind we need. We need men and women who are dumb enough to think that they can achieve good government themselves by rolling up a sleeve and going to work.

Psychologists are changing their theories nowadays about whether the brain is really the seat of all mental processes. They’ve about decided that the spinal cord has a great deal to do with over-all intelligence. My tobacco-spitting grandfather could have told you that much. He used to say that citizen without a backbone might as well not have a head either for all the good he could do.

It takes a lot of backbone to do the little things that citizens have to do to preserve the liberties we enjoy under a Constitution and a system of private enterprise. It isn’t easy to drag yourself out of a plush-bottom chair and go to a meeting of the city council. It isn’t easy for a girl in the office to tell her boss he ought to be reading the editorials along with the sports page. It isn’t easy to grin and go when you get a summons to serve on the jury—and when the boss has spent a couple of weeks in the jury box, he usually feels that his service justifies getting his employees excused.

After a rough day at the office, it’s hard to put your shoes back on your aching feet and walk down the precinct convention and it isn’t easy to get up for church on Sunday morning after working till midnight Saturday. But if you think you’re going to keep your state and country free by tipping your hat to the church on your way to the club, you’ve flipped your lid.

Freedom was born in the little business houses of Philadelphia and Boston and it lives in the tall buildings that house the office of our great industries, chiefly oil, the backbone of our political and economic system.

But where does freedom die? It dies in the swanky offices where an oilman is sitting around waiting for the governor to drop in with an appointment to a state board, while the local school board and civic committee are crying for qualified member. It dies on the downtown sidewalk over which men and women no longer walk to the polls because they don’t want to leave an air-conditioned building. It dies in the public squares where people no longer attend political rallies and on the steps of the school house where mothers and fathers never set foot because they’re too busy.

Freedom expires in church pews that are never filled and in the empty seats of the meetings of the Desk and Derrick Club of Odessa. It dies in homes where half the family just hangs around waiting for the other half to get back with the car. It perishes wherever people are too stiff-necked to bow their heads and too weak-kneed to walk the straight line of responsibility.

What can we do? As citizens and oilmen and women we can work to put more responsible people in our government—individuals who appreciate the value of freedom, free enterprise and the tax dollar. Men and women who can and will execute policies consistent with our basic beliefs of economy, efficiency and integrity—office holders dedicated to the fundamental concept of getting and keeping government out of business and undertaking only those services that government should perform, leaving other things to individual and private initiatives.

Get in public office yourself if you have to do it to protect your country. Doing things for good government takes a lot of qualities that women have in abundance. Any girl on a reception desk who can tell a visitor the boss is out of town when his loud voice is clearly audible in the background has the essential assets of a politician. Any girl who can be happy working a fifty hour week while her boss takes a sixty-five hour week-end has the stickibility of a bureaucrat.

There is not a woman working in the oil business who wouldn’t be right at home in the state or national capitol. If you have ever viewed an office girl wheedling a little special service out of the janitor, postman, the building manager or the office supply salesman, you have seen a master lobbyist at work and if you have ever seen an office girl on the telephone, you have seen a filibuster.

We must remember too that the oil industry was made great by rugged individualists—by men and women who weren’t afraid or ashamed to sweat, to cry, to pray and to cuss if necessary, and sometimes when it wasn’t necessary, and we have an obligation to carry on that heritage.

The bosses here tonight are entitled to employees with courage and vision—who won’t become so concerned with extra benefits and guaranteed income that they lose sight of the value to excel on their own.

This country would be a lot better off too, if more people were spitting on their hands instead of on their bosses.

The greatest fault of the American people is our materialism and lack of real concern for good government. Half of us are trying to buy all the good things in life with money and the other half is trying to vote them into existence.

But who can open up a safety deposit box and file away a title to the West Texas sunset? Who can lay gold on the counter and buy the look of trust and innocence in a child’s eyes? Can anybody dig into his pocketbook and buy a good conscience or a lifetime of proud accomplishment? No man can trade hard cash for the companionship of a true friend or purchase at any price the love and devotion of a good woman or good man. And all the money in all the treasuries of the world is not worth the sound of a mother’s lullaby or the laughter of a free man.

Because freedom is old, not young;
yet it is born anew in the first cry of a free man’s son;
It is not a living thing, yet it dies if we do not love it;
It is not weak, but strong; yet it must be defended:
It is light, yet it weighs heavy on him who is without it;
It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;
It is not small, but great; yet once lost, it is never, never found again.
Yes, to be born free is an accident;
To live free is a responsibility;
To die free is an obligation.

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]