Each quarter we will feature a story about our Parchment alumni here.
By Dave Person
When Merrilee (Campbell) Gordon looks back at her long and satisfying career in the oil industry which took her to New Orleans, Houston and as far away as Malaysia, she credits the small school district of Parchment and the teachers there who showed they cared.
"One of the things I appreciated about my education was I had a lot of teachers who gave me personal attention and I was challenged," says Gordon, 57, who is now retired and living in Montgomery, Texas.
Gordon's family moved from the Kalamazoo school district to Clato Street in the Parchment school district when she was in second grade and she remained in the Parchment schools through her graduation in 1977.
All the way through her elementary and secondary education she was challenged by her teachers, she says, remembering, in particular, Mrs. Irene Heeringa in fourth grade, Mr. Donald Culp and Mrs. Dixie Johnson in sixth grade, and James Orr, her high school American history teacher who caught her doodling in his class and offered her the opportunity to stretch herself by spending her classroom time in the library reading about American history rather than half-listening to his lectures.
"It was an independent study, really," she says, thinking back.
That wasn't her only out-of-the-ordinary accomplishment.
"I remember being able to take drafting," she says. "I believe I was the first woman who took it at Parchment High, and I remember having to get permission."
Her pioneering work as a woman in a male-dominated field was conceived, she says, while she was in high school dreaming of becoming an engineer.
"I enjoyed math and science and I enjoyed hand-on activities," she says.
After high school she spent four years at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.
"I actually started out in electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, but it wasn't hands-on enough for me," she says. So she switched to geological engineering.
"It was a nice mix of the practical and theoretical applications," she says.
In 1981, after receiving her degree in that discipline, Gordon got a job as a drilling engineer with Amoco Production Co. in Levelland, Texas. During her three years in the West Texas oil fields, she was Amoco's only drilling engineer, overseeing development and exploration drilling in addition to well completions. Most of that time she was a drilling foreman overseeing three rigs concurrently while at the same time maintaining her well-planning role.
"I would go out in the field and supervise people on the drilling rigs," she says. "This was a nice mix of you'd plan the work for a while and then you would go out and see your ideas being implemented."
"The nice benefit for me working in West Texas, you still had risks but not the Deepwater (offshore oil-drilling rig that exploded in 2010, killing 11 and causing a massive oil spill) kind of risks."
Gordon also had the distinction of being Amoco's only female at her level of responsibility. "I was the only female drilling engineer with Amoco for about the first 11 years," she says.
From West Texas, Amoco sent Gordon to New Orleans in 1984 where she worked with both onshore and offshore drilling as a drilling engineer and then production systems engineer.
"The experience I had gotten in the less risky environment (of West Texas) served me well," she says of the move into the more complicated well-drilling arena.
It was in New Orleans that she met and married Doug Gordon, who was doing similar work for Shell Oil. They moved to Houston, Texas, the center of Amoco's international operations, in 1990. There, Gordon held a variety of positions.
"When I got to Houston ? I moved into this area called production services," she says. "I was that person who translated between the IT aspect and what the engineer out in the field needed to get the job done."
"It was a nice broadening assignment for me, and it also fit well with our family planning," she says, explaining that it was during that period they added their two children, Lindsay and Drew, to their family.
In 2001, after 20 years, Gordon left Amoco, which had merged with British Petroleum by that time, for a position as development and operations manager, Michigan assets, for Shell Exploration & Production Co. For two years, she flew between Houston and Kalkaska.
"Shell offered me that opportunity ? (and) I was very interested in it," she says.
"Having grown up in Michigan I totally understood our need to preserve our pristine environment. It was a big challenge and a good success for me."
Gordon returned full time to Houston in 2003 when Shell sold its Michigan assets. She spent the next three years in management, working to apply new technology to increase the efficiency of operations.
In 2006, she was appointed vice president, upstream and East, for Shell Global Solutions, a job that took her to Malaysia as senior manager in its office there for two years, 2008-09.
With a downturn in the economy in 2009, Shell Global Solutions was reorganized, which provided Gordon with an opportunity to return to Houston with the position of vice president of engineering for the Americas.
In 2013, Gordon and her husband retired to lake property they owned in Montgomery, Texas, north of Houston, where Gordon says she is dabbling in all the things she enjoys that she didn t have a chance to do while she was working.
She and her husband are also cheering on their children in their careers.
Lindsay, 26, graduated with a physics degree from West Point and is an Apache attack helicopter pilot. She served a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Drew, 24, got his degree in finance and works in the finance department for J.C. Penney in Frisco, Texas.
Gordon's mother now lives near her in Texas, but still owns the home on Clato where Gordon and her two sisters grew up. One of those sisters also lives in Texas while the other one lives in Augusta.
As she looks back on her career, Gordon takes a great deal of pride in knowing that she played a role in making the world a better place.
"There are people who are in such horrid poverty, and if we're going to give them better living conditions, it starts with giving them a more affordable source of energy," she says.
The companies she worked for, she says, tried to do that in a safe, clean and ethical way.
"It was very challenging," she says of her work, "and I felt like I was doing something important."
"I enjoyed it as a career. It s been a lot of fun."
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