Jubal Richard (Major, J. R.) Parten, businessman, political activist, philanthropist, and university regent, son of Wayne Lafayette and Ella May (Brooks) Parten, was born at Madisonville, Texas, on February 16, 1896, the sixth of eleven children of one of the pioneer families of Madison County. He spent his youth in Madisonville and graduated from Madisonville High School as valedictorian in 1913. From 1913 to 1917 he studied government and law at the University of Texas and participated in the intercollegiate debate program. After passing the state bar exam, Parten left school and entered the second United States Army Officers Training School at Leon Springs. After earning his initial commission as a captain and becoming an instructor in field artillery, he served tours of duty at Camp Stanley, Texas, and Camp Jackson, South Carolina. On December 15, 1917, Parten married Opal Woodley, a University of Texas student from Shamrock. He left the army in January 1919 with the rank of major. That same month he joined his father-in-law, Edward L. Woodley, to form the Woodley Company, an oil-well-drilling firm in Shreveport, Louisiana, that was reorganized and incorporated in 1922 as the Woodley Petroleum Company. As head of Woodley, Parten was a pioneer of the American oil industry. His company made the discovery wells at the Haynesville field in northern Louisiana and at the El Dorado field in southern Arkansas in 1922. Woodley moved its offices from Shreveport to Houston in 1935. It was active in Smackover, Arkansas, at the giant East Texas oilfield, and at fields in west central Texas, eastern New Mexico, and western Canada. In 1931 Parten and Sylvester Dayson of Longview formed the Centex Refining Company, which later became the Premier Refining Company. Premier operated refineries in Longview, Baird, and Fort Worth, Texas, as well as Cotton Valley, Louisiana.
As president of the Independent Petroleum Association of Texas from 1931 until 1934, Parten was a leader in the fight against the attempt by the presidential administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to impose federal regulations on the production of crude oil. His efforts contributed to the establishment in Texas of the Railroad Commission as the primary regulator of the state's oil industry. Long active in the affairs of the University of Texas, Parten was appointed in 1935 by Governor James Allred to the board of regents, of which he was chairman for his last two years of tenure, 1939–41. Parten's accomplishments included the recruitment and hiring of Homer P. Rainey as UT president and Dana X. Bible as head football coach. His most significant contribution, however, may have been his work with UT lands and the Permanent University Fund. Major Parten was instrumental in changing the oil leasing of UT lands from a closed to an open bidding process, which brought an enormous increase in revenue for the PUF.
During World War II Parten served as the director of the Transportation Division of the Petroleum Administration for War. He was responsible for seeing that crude oil and oil products were delivered from the Southwest to the East Coast. Working with an expert team from the oil industry, he coordinated a delivery system of railroad tank cars, river barges, and pipelines that provided fuel for the allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. His most important contribution was his management of the construction of the War Emergency Pipelines (see BIG INCH AND LITTLE BIG INCH) from East Texas to New York and Pennsylvania. At the time, these were the largest-capacity petroleum pipelines ever constructed. In 1945 President Harry S. Truman appointed Parten chief of staff of the United States delegation to the Allied War Reparations Commission. Serving under Ambassador Edwin Pauley, Parten organized the delegation and participated in the negotiations in Moscow and later at the Potsdam Conference in Berlin. He and fellow delegate Luther Gulick coauthored the final report of the United States delegation in December 1945.
In January 1944 Parten was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He became chairman in January 1947, a position he held until January 1954. He, Dayson, and several prominent Dallas businessmen, including Roland S. Bond, Buddy Fogelson, and Guy I. Warren, organized the Pan American Sulphur Company of Mexico in 1947, a business in which Parten was active until its liquidation in 1976. Under his stewardship as chairman of the board, Pan American developed and operated at Jáltipan, Vera Cruz, Mexico, one of North America's most prolific and profitable sulfur mines. Pan American eventually developed into a major international sulfur company active in European and North American markets.
After selling the Premier Refining Company in 1948, Parten reentered the oil-refining business in 1951, when he led a consortium of investors, including Dayson and J. Howard Marshall, to form the Great Northern Oil Company, which built and operated a refinery near St. Paul, Minnesota. Great Northern provided a market for oil produced by the Woodley Company fields in Saskatchewan. When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, President Truman brought Major Parten back to Washington to organize the Petroleum Administration for Defense to ensure fuel supplies for the military effort in Korea. Parten served as a consultant to PAD until January 1953. In January 1961 Stewart Udall, secretary of the interior in the Kennedy administration, appointed Parten his official advisor for oil policy, a post in which Parten remained until June 1961. In April 1960 Parten merged his Woodley Petroleum Company with the Pure Oil Company of Chicago. He served as a director of Pure until it merged with the Union Oil Company of California in July 1965. His last oil enterprise was the Parten Oil Company of Houston, which was especially active in oil and gas exploration and production in the East Texas counties of Madison and Houston. In addition to these corporate endeavors, Parten owned and operated the Greenbrier Ranch in Madison County and the Rattlesnake Ranch in Houston County and was the major stockholder and chairman of the board of the 7-J Stock Farm in Houston County.
As a life-long Democrat, Parten was an active participant in partisan political affairs at the state and national levels. In the 1920s he was a friend and associate of Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long. He served as one of James Allred's chief advisors and raised funds for Allred's 1932 campaign for Texas attorney general and for his two campaigns for governor (1934 and 1936). Parten also served as unofficial manager and fundraiser for Ernest. O. Thompson's successful 1932 and 1934 campaigns for the position of chairman of the Railroad Commission and for his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1938. Parten became a close friend of Congressman Sam Rayburn during the 1930s and served as one of Rayburn's closest advisors during the years he was speaker of the House of Representatives. After Rayburn's death in 1961, Parten became a director of the Rayburn Foundation, and he made important financial contributions in support of the Sam Rayburn Library in Bonham. From 1944 until the 1970s Parten was associated with the loyalist faction in the state Democratic party that supported the national party's platform and ticket in presidential elections. In that role Parten served as chief fund-raiser and political advisor in Homer Price Rainey's campaign for governor in 1946. He was a member of the group that attempted to unseat Governor R. Allan Shivers's Texas delegation at the Democratic national convention in Chicago in 1952 in a dispute over party loyalty. In 1954 he participated with other wealthy loyalists headed by Frankie Randolph of Houston in establishing the, Texas Observer the loyalist faction's news journal. Parten also played a key part in every political campaign waged by another loyalist, Ralph W. Yarborough. In the 1960s and 1970s Parten was a member of an informal triumvirate of wealthy liberal Democratic fund-raisers that included Waco insurance executive Bernard Rapoport and Dickinson banker Walter Hall. It was this latter group that provided most of the financial support for the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns of Frances "Sissy" Farenthold in 1972 and 1974 and for the Texas campaign of 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. In 1984 Parten was the principal financial backer of humorist and civil libertarian John Henry Faulk's unsuccessful campaign for Congress.
J. R. Parten was actively involved in education throughout his life. In August 1952 he became a founding director of the Fund for the Republic, a program established by the Ford Foundation to provide grants in support of activities related to civil-liberties education. As an active member of the fund's board of directors, Parten worked closely with its president, Robert Maynard Hutchins, to establish programs, including John Cogley's investigation of the practice of blacklisting in the entertainment industry, Michael Harrington's project on poverty (published as The Other America),and a series of international convocations on Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris. In 1959 Parten was involved in the establishment of the fund's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California, a "think tank" for the study of public policy, especially in regard to the civil-rights movement, academic freedom and student rights, constitutional reform, and international relations. Parten served as chairman of the fund's board of directors from February 1974 until his resignation from the board in September 1975.
His relationship with the University of Texas-as a student, regent, and active former student-spanned eighty years. He served as a member of the university's Development Council for more than twenty-five years, and he was a founding member of the Chancellor's Council. In the 1970s Parten joined C. B. Smith to provide funds to establish the university's Walter Prescott Webb Chair. He served on the university's Centennial Commission in 1983. In 1988 he established at the university the J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History and in 1990 the John Henry Faulk Fund for the Bill of Rights. In 1987, in recognition of his significant contributions to the university as well as his many civic and business accomplishments, the University of Texas Ex-Students Association honored Parten with its Distinguished Alumnus award.
J. R. Parten's marriage to Opal Woodley ended in divorce in March 1947. On October 31, 1947, he married Patsy Edwards Puterbaugh of Dallas, a war widow with a young daughter, Patricia (Pepe). This second marriage produced Parten's only child, John Randolph (Randy). After graduation from the University of Texas Law School, Randy joined his father as an executive of Parten Oil Company. Patsy Parten died on April 17, 1975. Parten spent much time and effort in his last years encouraging and supporting work aimed at fostering world peace, serving as an advisor and financial contributor to the American Committee on East-West Accord and the Center for Defense Information. As a philanthropist he provided support to nonprofit programs, including St. Stephen's Episcopal School and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin; the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; and Pacifica Radio and St. John's School in Houston. Parten died at his home in Madisonville on November 9, 1992, of natural causes. He was buried in Madisonville. At the time of his death, he had two grandchildren.