Noël, William Douglas (1914–1987)

By: Grace King and Gem Meacham

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: November 20, 2020

Bill Noël, independent oilman, industrialist, philanthropist, and civic leader, was born on May 11, 1914, in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Earnest and Inez (Turnpaugh) Noël. He was orphaned at the age of six and raised by grandparents and an aunt and uncle. He graduated from high school in Fort Worth in 1931 and earned his B.B.A. from the University of Texas in 1935. His first job after college was with Gulf Oil as a roustabout. He moved to the Permian Basin in 1936 as a chemist in Gulf's Wickett refinery. He was subsequently instrumental in transforming the Odessa economy through his business endeavors, which touched all phases of the petroleum industry, including drilling and production, refining, gas gathering and transmission, and petrochemicals. He was also involved in banking and ranching enterprises throughout Texas.

In 1940 Noël moved to McCamey, where he and two partners, M. H. McWhirter of Monahans and J. B. Tubb of Crane County, formed Trebol Oil Company. Starting with a cable-tool rig, Noël worked eighteen-hour days as Trebol's tool pusher, pumper, and production supervisor. The company drilled fifty-two producing wells before hitting their first dry hole. Noël was so busy, he claimed, that he made his first million dollars several years before he realized it. He formed a partnership with Earl G. Rodman, Sr., in 1946, when they purchased a refinery and began operations as Odessa Natural Gasoline Company. In 1954 the two launched an industrial diversification campaign that culminated in the world's largest inland petrochemical complex, encompassing four major companies (El Paso Products, General Tire, Rexene, and Shell), with six plants located south of Odessa. To establish a cornerstone for the complex, Noël recruited El Paso Natural Gas Company into joint-venture construction of a butadiene plant that came onstream in 1957. In 1963 this plant and Odessa Natural Gasoline were purchased by El Paso Products, a wholly owned subsidiary of El Paso Natural Gas. Noël served as president of El Paso Products from 1963 until his retirement in 1980. In 1984 he led an employee buyout of El Paso Products that saved the Permian Basin's petrochemical industry. In 1957 the Noël-Rodman partnership founded West Texas Gathering Company, which purchased, treated, and transported gas for resale to home customers of the El Paso and Pioneer Natural Gas companies. The partners also drilled the discovery wells in two Upton County oilfields: the Radford No. 1 in 1953 and the Weir No. 1 in 1961. They founded the American Bank of Commerce in Odessa in 1956 and held controlling interests in banks in five other Texas cities—San Angelo, Lubbock, San Antonio, Big Spring, and Fort Worth. Noël became a director of the board of Texas Commerce Bancshares of Houston after three Noël-Rodman banks (American Bank of Commerce in Odessa, San Angelo National Bank, and Citizens National Bank in Lubbock) merged with Texas Commerce in 1973; he served until 1987.

The Noël-Rodman partnership invested in agriculture and ranching throughout West Texas but dissolved the joint ranching enterprises in 1975, when Noël bought Fort Terrett Ranch in Sutton County. He stocked the ranch with exotics, the first in the county. He devoted considerable resources to developing Texas pecans as a commercial food source and owned orchards in Upton and Comanche Counties before establishing a 120-acre orchard on Fort Terrett Ranch. He successfully employed experimental agricultural methods and computer technology to increase pecan production. The ranch encompassed a United States Army frontier installation built in 1852 and abandoned in 1854; Noël avidly promoted historical research and preservation of the site.

Noël served on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission from 1952 to 1968. He was a charter inductee of the Texas Business Hall of Fame and was elected to the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum Hall of Fame, both in 1983. He was honored by the University of Texas at Austin as a distinguished alumnus in 1985. He married Ellen Witwer of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 24, 1937, and they had two daughters. He was a Presbyterian. Noël helped establish the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa and served as chairman of its development board from 1984 to 1987. He and his wife endowed the Ellen and Bill Noël Scholarship Fund. He was named outstanding citizen of Odessa in 1963. Noël died of cancer on January 9, 1987, in Odessa.

Grace King, Sherwood Noël McGuigan, and Gem Meacham, From Muskets to Mohair: The History of Fort Terrett (Waco: Texian Press, 1992). Odessa American, January 11, 1987. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Business
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Grace King and Gem Meacham, “Noël, William Douglas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
November 20, 2020

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