In the lobby of True Companies in Casper, Wyoming hangs a plaque: The Code of the West. The 10 principles listed include courage, fairness and keeping your word.
Those are all values True Companies’ founder “Dave” True, Jr., 1915-1994, lived out. The legendary Wyoming wildcatter is also known to many as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He’s known to Mountain States Legal Foundation as a “hero” and former Chairman of the Board.
Although his given name was Henry Alphonso True, Jr., the brilliant oil man went by Dave. It was a fitting moniker for a modest man who spurned attention even as he built a network of businesses, supported nonprofits and business groups, and earned accolades including “Citizen of the Century” from University of Wyoming.
“He was a very quiet supporter,” said his son David L. “Not only did he not want the limelight, he ran from it. He didn’t want his name in lights or up on the marquee or anything else. But if you took a minute and looked around, you’d see: ‘Oh, there’s his fingerprint over there, and there’s his fingerprint over there.’ But you never heard him say it.”
Family members who knew him best described him fondly as a quiet, family man and the hardest worker you could imagine.
His son Diemer recalled that his dad would go to work seven days a week, come home for family dinner each night, then return to work.
The Early Years and Family Life
Dave True was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming but soon the Great Depression forced his father’s business to close. They relocated to Florida but still struggled.
“Family lore has it they were about to send the kids away when The Texas Companies, which became Texaco, called to ask grandfather to be a landman” in Montana, said Diemer.
His father’s work in the oil industry would have a profound influence on Dave.
He met Jean, the woman who became his wife, while he was earning an engineering degree from Montana State. Their son Dave said his parents had the best relationship and were “partners in every way.” Over the years the couple had four children: Tamma True-Hatten, H.A. “Hank” True III, Diemer True and David L. True.
Mother was a significant reason he was the man he was, David L. said. “She was so supportive of him.” Diemer agreed, describing them as “partners and friends and man and wife.”
After graduating, Dave pursued a career in oil.
“He was so impressed by his dad’s friends in the oil field, he thought this is the best industry in the world,” said Diemer. “So he took a job … an entry-level roustabout job,” in spite of his engineering degree, and moved to Wilson Creek, Colorado.
Texaco later promoted him and moved the family to Cody, Wyoming. But following the war the company offered him two options: New York or Venezuela. He chose a different path, staying in Wyoming to work on a one-rig drilling operation.
From a “shoestring” operation, he built a successful oil business and, always the entrepreneur, he started related businesses in transportation, agriculture and financial services. Many of them still exist today as part of the True Companies.
Brent Hathaway, a former dean of the University of Wyoming College of Business, told the Casper Star Tribune in 2013, Dave True was the consummate entrepreneur.
“He had an incredible legacy of creating dozens of companies” still in operation, because “he was a big-picture leader. He was able to anticipate needs.”
“A good deal is not a good deal unless it’s good for both parties.” H.A. “Dave” True, Jr.
Taking the Long View
Contrary to modern liberal stereotypes of businesspeople, Dave True cared about how he did it. He “had real character,” which “dictated how he did business.”
“He always wanted to make a deal [so that the other party] wanted to come back and make another deal with him,” Diemer explained. He always said, “A good deal is not a good deal unless it’s good for both parties.”
His brilliance, character and patience brought success.
David L. recalled his dad, “always took the long view. I can’t think of an example where he was in it for a quick buck.”
Gratitude over that success led Dave to give back in his own community and to be active in national organizations in his own quiet way.
“He felt very blessed with the industries that he was involved with, with the country, and with the state and the region. He really had a sense of obligation to give back of his time and talent,” said Dave.
Hank said their father “was a tremendous advocate of being able to take his favorite partner [the government] to task.”
Although Dave started off as a Democrat, he quickly realized he didn’t share their principles. Diemer said his father became a conservative who “put money where his mouth was” and became very active behind the scenes with business and trade groups.
He was an early supporter and board member of Mountain State Legal Foundation and served as Board Chairman from 1988-1990. “Dave True was a real hero to MSLF,” said one founding board of litigation member. Dave helped the foundation survive a difficult financial period early in its history.
Why MSLF? Government accountability was likely one motivator, but his son David L. thought it was also about fairness. He felt “government shouldn’t be there to tilt the playing field.” It should allow people to take risks and fail or succeed.
“I just think he felt regulations and burdensome laws were contrary to the overall improvement of, not just the country, but mankind and society. And that people should be allowed to venture and fail,” David L. explained.
Wisdom for Today
If Dave True were still here, his son Diemer thinks he’d have this advice for fellow conservatives.
First, “never give up.” Second, “we’ve probably never needed Mountain States Legal Foundation more than we do now with the excess of government reach and just the smothering rules and regulations.”
Diemer said that if political winds shift and “we get back to the Obama craze of regulating everything, the need for Mountain States Legal Foundation will be greater and greater.”
“But he’d say it in fewer words,” Diemer added with a laugh.