My wife, Eileen, and I were sitting in the backseat of his car as Milford and his wife, Gayle, were driving us back to their home from a wonderful dinner of fried catfish. I was following my customary practice of paying a personal visit to the association’s incoming officer, and Milford and Gayle were gracious hosts, opening their home to us and taking us out to their favorite diner.
We had been talking all evening about the association, the industry, the past and the future, when Milford again raised the question of an industry check-off program. This subject had come up for the last couple of years, especially since Texas was nearing enactment of a form of check-off program that would create the Alternative Fuels Research & Education Division of the Texas Railroad Commission. Anyone who knew Milford knew his familiar style: Make a declaration, and then ask the listener, “What do you think about that? Does that make any sense?”
As we’re rolling down the back roads of Texas and I’m beginning to doze off after a satisfying meal, Milford says to me: “Dan, what if we organized a lobbying campaign to pass a national check-off program that would raise money for industry market promotion, education and training? If everyone pays into the program, not just the association members, we could raise a lot more money than we can through dues, and it would be a lot more fair. Don’t you agree? What do you think? Does that make any sense?”
With those seemingly innocent questions, I was suddenly awake and conscious of the fact that Milford Therrell, the National Propane Gas Association’s incoming first vice president, was about to make my life much more hectic. Anything was possible in Milford’s world, and if it wasn’t possible, there was some other way to accomplish the same objective.
I could think of a myriad of objections, I could envision all kinds of obstacles to accomplishment, and I knew we were talking about a major and expensive legislative initiative. But in reality, the only possible answer could be, “Why not?” Working with Milford Therrell, I was often reminded of the old joke about the difference between an accountant and a CPA. If you ask an accountant what 2 plus 2 equals, he will tell you 4. If you ask the same question of a CPA, he will ask, “What do you want it to be?”
Milford was always asking questions, always challenging the status quo, always wondering if we could do something different and better. It was impossible to say no to Milford Therrell. He didn’t accept a negative response. There were no problems, only opportunities. And, if there were no opportunities, he would find an opportunity that needed creating.
Milford’s beautiful and gracious wife, the late Gayle Therrell, was much like Milford. While Milford was NPGA president, Gayle first asked about creating a college scholarship fund that would provide financial assistance to children of industry member employees. Gayle’s interest and enthusiasm for this project infected other wives of NPGA board members who took up the cause and have carried it forward. Today, the National Propane Gas Foundation Scholarship Fund has more than $2 million. It gave out 56 scholarships during the 2007-08 academic year alone.
Milford and Gayle Therrell were a unique couple who always visualized a better world. Without Milford’s vision and forceful nature, the Propane Education & Research Council would never have become a reality. Without Gayle’s vision, many young people might never have obtained a college education. We will miss them greatly.
But we should also rejoice that for a time they were ours, and they shared with us their vision of a new and better world. The legacy of their visions will live on long after their passing. Thank you, Milford and Gayle, for what you did for the people of the propane industry.
Dan Myers is a member of the LP Gas Magazine Editorial Advisory Board. He worked for 25 years as chief lobbyist and chief staff executive for the National Propane Gas Association until his retirement in December of 2002.