Sam Gary, oilman and philanthropist, dies at home in Denver at age 94

Sam Gary, an oilman and philanthropist who founded the Piton Foundation, died Monday at home in Denver. He was 94.

In the 1960s, Gary, then a “wildcat” in the oil industry, drilled 39 dry holes before hitting it big in 1967 with discovery of the Bell Creek Field in eastern Montana. With an estimated 240 million barrels, Bell Creek was the 84th largest oil field in the country when discovered and more than 400 wells were drilled. In 1976, Gary and his wife, Nancy, created The Piton Foundation to help support Colorado children and families in need.

“After Bell Creek I started thinking about luck,” Gary said in a 2010 statement, when he was honored by the Council on Foundations, a national group, for his philanthropy. “The creation of Piton caused me to see the world through eyes of people who really didn’t have a chance.”

At that time, Denver-based Piton had supported a variety of education and community programs with $56 million. Nonprofits incubated and influenced by Piton include the Urban Land Conservancy, Denver Preschool Program and the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

After the 2011 sale of Gary-Williams Oil Producer Inc., Gary Community Investments, a hybrid philanthropic foundation combining nonprofit and for-profit resources, was launched. It includes The Piton Foundation.

“It is with great sadness that we share the news that our beloved husband, father, grandfather and longtime community leader Sam Gary passed away,” said a GCI statement. “Sam was a treasure to his family and community. We know that many people will look forward to celebrating his life at a later time when we can safely gather together.”

On Nov. 1, 1926, Gary was born in New York City. He graduated from Syracuse University and worked as a press agent in New York. Gary joined the Coast Guard and while on leave he met Nancy Howard. They were married in 1953. They moved to Denver where Gary pursued his career in the oil industry, becoming a “scout” with the Ryan Oil Co. He soon joined two partners to form the Cortez Oil Co., drilling in the Denver Basin. In 1958, he founded Samuel Gary Oil Producer. In 1977, Ron Williams partnered with Gary and Gary-Williams Oil Producer Inc. was formed.

“I would like to see business people try to solve social problems with the same imagination and energy they use to finance a factory or make a deal,” Gary said, in the GCI statement. “Don’t call it philanthropy; call it corporate social investment. Make it integral to business.”

Gary was involved in the former Stapleton Airport site’s redevelopment and was a founding member of Colorado Forum. He helped create Colorado Open Lands, serving as the land conservation’s first chairman of the board.

Other organizations supported by Gary’s philanthropy include Children’s Medical Center, Colorado Children’s Healthcare Access Program, and Children’s Hospital. Gary is a Colorado Business Hall of Fame laureate.

“Sam Gary was a pioneer. Not only did he embody the brave, entrepreneurial spirit of Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry but he also embodied the spirit of Colorado. He understood that philanthropy and business must walk hand in hand, and that a thriving business environment requires healthy and thriving communities,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. “His investment in Colorado’s future through ventures like the Piton Foundation will pay dividends for years to come.”

Gary is survived by his wife, of 67 years, Nancy; children, Sam Jr. (Kate), Tina, Julie (Christopher), Robert (Chris); and grandchildren, Skyler (Jennifer), Isabel (John), Jordan (Stephanie), Vanessa, Matthew, Rose and Stella.

Condolences may be sent to [email protected]

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