Bob Chiles Reflects Upon ‘Lot of Life,’ Career

Oil and gas industry provided mechanical engineering graduate lengthy, prosperous journey

Bob Chiles

By his own admission, Bob L. Chiles Jr. (BSME 59) has lived a long, interesting life.

“Once I started looking back over it, it was hard to stop,” he said. “There’s a lot of life here.”

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Chiles spent his first 11 grades in Paragould, Ark., and graduated from nearby Osceola High School in 1952.

“Two days out of school, I joined the U.S. Navy (during the Korean Conflict) and attended aviation electronics school,” he said. “The entirety of my military career was at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.”

His best friend in the Navy had talked Chiles into going to the University of Miami, but upon his discharge, another friend from Osceola, who was going to Ole Miss, suggested a visit to Oxford.

“I visited the new Carrier Hall and met Dean Fred Kellogg, who offered me a small scholarship if I would come to Ole Miss to study engineering,” Chiles said. “The beauty of the campus and the friendliness of everyone made it a no-brainer for me. Since I was on the GI Bill, but it was insufficient funds, Dean Kellogg helped me get jobs so I could afford school.”

Chiles remembers helping build heat transfer labs in the back of Carrier Hall, cleaning gutters at faculty housing, pulling weeds at the golf course, tutoring football players in math and grading freshmen drafting work. Since he did not have to take ROTC (being a veteran), Chiles took 6 hours of math and psychology each semester.

“I ended up with what could have been multiple majors, except I didn’t have time to get the foreign languages necessary,” he said. “Engineering was so demanding. As it turned out, after I got into management, the psychology courses were a great deal of help managing people.”

Chiles named several professors who influenced him as a student.

“Dr. Wolfe, head of the psychology department, was very influential in my decision making,” he said. “Not only did we play a lot of golf together, but he became a great friend. Dr. McDonald, head of the mechanical engineering department, was a great mentor. And, of course, any engineering student got guidance from Dr. Frank Anderson in the chemical engineering department. Dr. Roy was also good for all of us.”

Upon graduation in 1959, Chiles went to work for Transcontinental Gas Pipeline, based in Houston, Texas.

“I spent my career there, mostly in the construction department designing and building natural gas compressor stations from Texas to New York,” Chiles said. “I moved 18 times in five years.”

In 1964, Chiles became involved in Houston politics. He was in the same precinct as George H.W. Bush and became precinct finance chairman.

“George and Barbara were very nice to me,” Chiles said. “One of Mr. Bush’s subsidiary company presidents was going to work as president for a subsidiary of Pennzoil in Pittsburgh. It was the National Transit Co., a group of pipelines originally part of the Standard Oil Trust (J.D. Rockefeller’s old company). He offered for me to come to work as vice president of engineering and operations.”

After the company president left for government work in Washington, Chiles became president at the ripe old age of 34. Eventually, he was made a vice president for crude purchasing and transportation at Pennzoil, working primarily in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York.

By 1991, Chiles took early retirement at 56 and became a consultant in Houston. He chaired committees on some joint ventures, including a $1 billion deal with Conoco, a plant in Venezuela and transportation facilities in Louisiana.

“I did that for two years when they asked me to come back to work, which I did, even though no one at the company had ever done that before,” said Chiles, who returned as senior vice president of the Eastern Refining Business Unit for Pennzoil Products Co. The unit included refineries in Pennsylvania and Utah, the pipeline companies, crude oil purchasing for all the refineries, the exploration and production groups in the East and Utah, a derivatives department and the fuels quality group.

“I finally gave it all up and retired again in 1996,” Chiles said. “My wife and I spent 18 months traveling in Russia, China, Peru, New Zealand, Ireland, Egypt, Italy, France, Alaska, Brazil and Colombia. We took immersion Spanish in Mexico for a month in San Miguel de Allende. We took trips up the Yangtze, down the Amazon, up the Volga and down the Rhone.”

The couple explored the Grand Canyon on mules, enjoyed cruises in Caribbean and took cooking classes in Italy.

Chiles’ wife, who was an engineer and lawyer, lost a battle with lymphoma in 2010. He has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage.

“I still play golf. A few weeks ago, I turned 79 and three days later shot 77. That is two below my age and the 10th time I have been able to do it.”

Chiles’ brother, James W. Chiles, is an Ole Miss business administration graduate who spent his career in the U.S. Army, both as a helicopter pilot and as a civilian employee. He lives in Calabash, N.C.

Kevin Gardner, development officer for the UM School of Engineering, said Chiles’ life has indeed been remarkable.

“I met Mr. Chiles while he was hosting some veterans of Iraq for a football game on campus,” Gardner said. “Bob is a great example of Ole Miss engineering students seizing opportunities, then maximizing those. Once professionally established, he helped to create opportunities for others.”

Chiles said Ole Miss is a special place.

“It will mark you as one of a small special group that is exposed to real Southern love,” he said.