Jan. 23, 2008, 11:01PM
John David Kirkland, oil exec and ballet lover, dies at 74
John David Kirkland — Houston TX lawyer, oil and gas executive and longtime leader of the Houston Ballet Foundation — died Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 74.
Kirkland, who earned his law degree from Yale, practiced corporate and securities law at Baker, Botts, Shepherd & Coates from 1958 until 1967. But law wasn't his first career aspiration, said his wife, Kate Sayen Kirkland.
"He started off thinking he would be a physicist, but he switched to American studies and then decided on law," she said.
Next, Kirkland worked for Pennzoil, where he served in a variety of roles, including executive vice president and a member of the board of directors. He left Pennzoil in 1978 and went to work as director of executive education at the Jones School of Management and Administration at Rice University.
He worked at a number of other companies, including as chairman of Heritage Trust Co.; director of MetFuel Inc., chairman and chief executive officer of Antara Resources Inc. and chairman of Huntington Exploration.
He and son Robert Wales Kirkland worked together at Antara and Huntington.
"He loved what he was doing," his son said. "He would always find an innovative way to solve a problem, sometimes when others could never come up with a way to solve it."
In college, John David Kirkland discovered a second love.
"A friend took him to Swan Lake, and he was just fascinated. He loved it," his wife said. "Ballet did really mean a great deal to John."
He served as president and chairman of the Houston Ballet Foundation and as a trustee for more than 30 years.
During his time away from business and the ballet, Kirkland and his wife often escaped to their farm in Bellville in Austin County TX.
Kirkland served as treasurer of United Way of Houston and chairman of its finance committee; trustee of the Chinquapin School and of St. Francis Episcopal Day School; director of the Houston chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; and a member of the advisory council of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Kirkland is also survived by another son, John David Kirkland Jr., and daughter, Solace Kirkland Southwick, both of Houston; and stepdaughters Anne Conyers Leader and Jennifer Barrett Leader, both of New York.
A memorial service will be at 3:30 p.m. today at Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas. Houston,TX