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Guest column: Remembering Bill Denny

March 5, 2013 By    

One of the finest “characters” whom I ever knew in the propane industry was a cowboy out of the west who was as much at home in a business suit and in a conference room as he was in casual clothes hanging out in the bar with the boys.

Born in New Mexico and raised in the oil fields of Lance Creek, Wyo., Bill Denny was as down home and natural as anyone you would ever wish to meet.

I knew Bill through his leadership roles in the National LP-Gas Association (NLPGA), the earlier name for the National Propane Gas Association. I had joined the organization in 1978, and it wasn’t very long before Bill started showing up at association board meetings as the company representative for Petrolane, which he led as its CEO before his retirement. It wasn’t long before he was elected to the NLPGA Executive Committee and served on that committee for a good many years, rising through the chairs to become association president (now known as chairman).

His time in the organization’s leadership roles was a time of great regulatory activity in Washington and a period of new plans and programs for the association. Propane had been under close government regulation through most of the 1970s, beginning with price regulations and product allocation controls that were instituted in 1973 in the wake of the Arab oil embargo.

When President Ronald Reagan came into office in January 1981, one of his first acts was to remove the last vestiges of controls that remained on propane, the only energy product still laboring under government regulation.

Following the removal of controls, the association moved quickly to regain lost ground and started work on a new marketing plan, spearheaded by Tom Nunan from Petrolane. It was Bill Denny who sanctioned the active involvement of Tom and many other senior personnel at Petrolane, such as Bob Myers and Bob Reid. It was also at this time that, in response to a spate of propane consumer accidents, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began to take a closer look at the retail propane industry.

More particularly, the CPSC was looking to retail propane marketers to undertake expensive water heater control recalls and replacement programs. Reacting to this, Bill, then president of the association, and Charles Sawyer, the first vice president (the office now known as chairman-elect), organized an effort to create a voluntary program that became known as GAS Check.

In large part, the program was patterned after a Petrolane program that had proven successful over the years in removing parts and appliances that were worn out or that had been subjected to consumer abuse or misuse. Again, Bill volunteered the services of his company’s senior personnel and shared with the association their experiences and talents, all to benefit the industry.

Bill was the last in a series of Petrolane CEOs who dedicated their own time and talents, and that of their company, for the betterment of the industry. Reflecting the old adage that a rising tide raises all ships, Bill and his predecessors – Rudi Munzer and John Wallace – knew intuitively that the contributions of their company, their personnel and themselves would be rewarded multi-fold.

My lasting memory of Bill will always be of an executive committee meeting that he was chairing shortly after I had concluded some action in Washington that was favorable to the industry. When we got to the place on the agenda when I was to give my report to the committee, Bill looked down the table at me and said in that very distinctive western twang of his: “Danny, it’s time for you to shine. Tell us all about it.”

Hearing Bill Denny say those words in an open meeting to his peers was the equivalent of receiving a gold medal. Bill had that impact on people: He made you feel good about yourself and what you were doing.

We lost Bill last September at the age of 87. A member of the Greatest Generation who fought in World War II, there aren’t many left like him. If you knew Bill Denny, you could search forever to find another like him. There surely can’t be many.


Daniel N. Myers retired in 2002 after 25 years with the National Propane Gas Association as general counsel and CEO. Since then he has practiced law and run The Churchill Centre, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the memory of Sir Winston Churchill.

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