L. Decker Dawson Fund in Exploration Geophysics

Jan 15, 1999 | Excellence Funds & Program Support

The L. Decker Dawson Fund in Exploration Geophysics was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on January 15, 1999, for the benefit of the Jackson School of Geosciences. Gift funds were provided by Mr. L. Decker Dawson of Midland, Texas. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the only son of a “career man” in the industry, L. Decker Dawson started in the oil exploration industry in 1941 when he was offered a job on a seismic crew.

He had just graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in civil engineering. At the time, the country was still in the Great Depression, and Dawson was fortunate enough to get a job that year with the Magnolia Petroleum Co., now a part of ExxonMobil. Dawson describes himself as “an instant doodlebugger.” He loved the exploration work, which took place mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. Dawson enlisted in the Navy when the United States entered World War II. After the war, he joined Republic Exploration Co. where he started as a crew chief and later became a supervisor.

The company moved him to Midland on January 1, 1950, one of the 25,000 people who came to the city in the 1950s. Dawson describes it as “booming beyond belief,”and recalls that the move “was the best day of my life. I just loved it, and also, because I met my dear wife there.” Decker and Louise Loper Dawson were married for 60 years until her passing in March 2011. They have one daughter, Mary, who graduated with a BS in geology from UT Austin.

L. Decker Dawson

In 1952, Dawson left Republic and founded Dawson Geophysical Co. with one seismic crew. Today, Dawson Geophysical is the largest land seismic company in the continental United States and employs more than 1,500 people. With 15 crews fully deployed and more than 140,000 recording channels, Dawson Geophysical is operating in every major basin throughout the country. In reflecting on his career, Dawson is clear: “You have to love what you are doing…luckily I got into something that fascinates me.”

Dawson was president of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 1989-1990, received its Enterprise Award in 1997, and was awarded honorary membership in 2002. He was chairman of the board of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors in 1981 and is an honorary life member of that association. In 1997, he was inducted into the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum’s Hall of Fame in Midland.

The L. Decker Dawson Exploration Geophysics Training Center in the Jackson Geological Sciences Building on the campus of UT Austin was established in 2002 to provide the 3D seismic data support for students studying exploration geophysics. Dawson is a lifetime member and past chairman (the first non-UT graduate and only one without a geology degree to so serve) of the Geology Foundation Advisory Council.

Dawson created this endowment to “pay back” the geological world, which has been good to him, although he modestly describes himself as having been “in the right place at the right time.” It was also a way for him to give back to UT Austin, “a great university in a great state with a great program in geophysics at the Jackson School.”

Update April 2019:  Mr. Dawson passed away in February, 2018

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