Neville Gregory Penrose, international relations advocate, oil entrepreneur, and son of John Francis Penrose and Mary or Marie Eleanor (Neville) Penrose, was born on May 9, 1893, or 1894, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Neville was the oldest of the couple’s children, having three younger sisters and a younger brother. John Penrose was the son of an oil man and had oil and ranching interests in northeastern Mexico and employed his son south of the border during summers beginning in 1912. Neville Penrose recounted that he had been arrested and quickly released by Pancho Villa’s men twice in quick succession while in Mexico and that Villa had threatened him with execution after his second arrest.
From 1916 to 1917 Penrose served in the First Pennsylvania Calvary and was stationed in El Paso, Texas, following Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico. In World War I he was deployed to France as a horse handler. He earned the rank of sergeant in June 1918. Returning in 1919 he became a salesman for oilfield equipment and an oil scout in Louisiana, Houston, Galveston, and Corpus Christi. He also spent time in Mexico and purchased oil leases and a ranch near Pánuco, Veracruz. In 1924 Penrose founded Island Oil Company, named in reference to St. Joseph Island on the Texas coast, which belonged to his close friend Sid Richardson. He moved to Fort Worth around 1927. There he met his soon-to-be wife Doris Helen Smith, a Fort Worth native. On June 11, 1928, the couple was married. They had one daughter, Patricia Neville Penrose, in 1938. Patricia went on to marry the well-known CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer. Doris and Neville remained married until Doris’s death in May 1965.
Penrose sold most of his oil-related holdings to focus on stock investments in 1927. Chastened by the losses he incurred in 1928, Penrose returned to the oil industry and never strayed far from it after that point. In 1929 Penrose partnered with Ed Hyde and Chester Westfall to establish Westhyde Investment Company. The company briefly prospered in the business of buying and selling oil leases, but the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 and the discovery of the East Texas Oilfield in 1930 brought down the price of oil and spelled disaster for Penrose’s financial interests. He formed Neville G. Penrose, Inc., in the mid-1930s. He later claimed that he founded the company with no particular plan in mind. He purchased mineral rights and leases in partnership with J. Mack Zachary. By 1942 the company had expanded into drilling. The pair became wildcatters in the Permian Basin but failed to strike oil. Penrose was able to continue operating as a contractor in Mexico after the nationalization of oil production and the expropriation of foreign oil holdings in 1938. In 1945 Penrose founded Penrose Production Company. Penrose served on the board of the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, for which he served as chair of public relations. He was a founder and chair of the Fort Worth Wildcatters.
He served as the Tarrant County representative on the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee from 1943 to 1952 and attended as well as spoke at multiple events for the Democratic party. Penrose was a supporter of anti-lynching legislation and opposed poll taxes. He had grown fond of the people of Mexico during his time there. Beginning in the 1920s he gave speeches to community groups challenging prejudice towards Mexican Americans. In 1949 Governor Allan Shivers appointed Penrose chairman of the Texas Good Neighbor Commission, a state agency created to support ties between Latin American nations and Texas and promote equal treatment of Latin Americans living in Texas. He led the agency for seven years. During this time he launched the Inter-American Teacher Education Program, which brought Mexican teachers of English to Texas to improve their English. The first seminar began in January 1951. (seeBILINGUAL EDUCATION). Penrose also used the commission to encourage Latin Texans to pay their poll taxes and vote in elections. He founded the Good Neighbor Foundation, which supplemented the state budget of the commission. He also drafted the resolution establishing the International Good Neighbors Council, which was passed by the commission in 1954. The council was a cooperative international group dedicated to promoting congeniality between Texas and its bordering Mexican states and studying border-related issues. After submitting his resignation in 1956, he received letters of appreciation from leaders throughout Mexico thanking him for his work to improve relations between Latin America and the United States.
He received citations from the Texas Heritage Foundation, Operation Amigos, the Fort Worth municipal government, and the Rotary Club of Dallas. In August 1953 the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) made him an honorary member for his contributions to “bettering relations between Latin and Anglo Americans.” He was also given honorary membership from the Council of International Relations. One of Penrose’s most gratifying honors came in 1956, when students and teachers at Escuela Normal Superior in Mexico City established the Neville G. Penrose Club, which was intended to support English teachers in Mexico’s Federal District and to increase “cultural and professional interchanges between Mexico and… English speaking countries.” The National Conference of Christians and Jews chapter in Fort Worth also recognized him in 1963 because of his steadfast support of the advancement of minorities. Marguerite Potter of Texas Christian University wrote a laudatory book entitled Grass-Roots Diplomat: Neville G. Penrose: Bueno Amigo y Vecino, published in 1961 by the university. Penrose served as a trustee of Texas Christian University, and in 1983 the Neville G. Penrose Chair of Latin American Studies was endowed at the university in his honor.
On June 30, 1977, Penrose died at his home in Westover Hills, an affluent suburb of Fort Worth. He was suffering from chronic brain syndrome. He was buried on July 2, 1977, at Greenwood Memorial Park in Fort Worth.
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Fort Worth Petroleum Club, Oil Legends of Fort Worth (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1993). Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 11, 1928; August 26, 1953; February 4, 1956; November 29, 1959; February 17, 1963; July 27, 2005. Marguerite Potter, Grass-Roots Diplomat: Neville G. Penrose: Buen Amigo y Vecino (Fort Worth, Texas Christian University, 1961). Texas Good Neighbor Commission Records, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Penrose, Neville Gregory,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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