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From First-Generation Student To Texas A&M Donor

Joanne and Lee Billingsley reflect on their fond Texas A&M memories and their inspiration for giving to the Department of Geology and Geophysics.

Feb 2, 2022

The Billingsley family. (All photos courtesy of Lee and Joanne Billingsley.)
The Billingsley family. (All photos courtesy of Lee and Joanne Billingsley.)
Joanne and Lee Billingsley hiking together.
Joanne and Lee Billingsley hiking together.

Forty years ago, Joanne and Lee Billingsley were young graduate students at Texas A&M, pushing their two children around campus in strollers while also completing difficult courses and conducting research.

Time has flown by, and they recently shared some of their inspiration for establishing the Joanne '75 and Lee Billingsley '75 Endowed Scholarship in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Texas A&M.

“We are so deeply grateful to Joanne and Lee for their investment in the future of geology and geophysics!” said Dr. Debbie Thomas, dean of the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M. “Their beautiful endowment not only provides critical support for students but also provides us with a critical resource to recruit and retain more amazing students.”

One Scholarship Made All The Difference

Growing up, Dr. Lee Billingsley had never heard of Texas A&M, until it was time to begin applying to universities.

“I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and as a bit of a lark I applied to Texas A&M, and made a visit, just to see what it was like,” he said. “I was the first in my family to go to college, and we were learning how it all worked.”

On that first visit, Lee met Dr. Robert Berg, the then head of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and after discussing his test scores with him, Berg offered him a $500 scholarship.

“That one scholarship was very valuable, because it allowed me to qualify for in-state tuition; so, I took the offer and majored in geology,” Billingsley said.

“Freshman year was quite an adjustment for me. I was in the Corps of Cadets. And I didn’t know anything about that either, before coming to Texas A&M.”

A member of Squadron 2, Billingsley adjusted to the rigors of life as a cadet and made life-long friendships. He went on to become a member of the prestigious Ross Volunteers.

“I still have friends to this day who are from the outfit that I was in,” he said. “We’re still friends, and we still get together once a year, and when we get together, it’s like we’ve never missed a beat.”

In his geology coursework, Billingsley was invigorated by the practical applications of the concepts.

“The geology professors were so practical, and the work was so interesting,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the oil and gas business when I came to Texas A&M. But, a lot of those professors had worked in the industry, and they equipped us with so much practical knowledge. I would ask ‘why do we need to know this?’ and they always had a practical example.”

Building A Life Together

“Then, freshman year, in chemistry class, I met a girl.”

“We were just friends, and then after some time getting to know each other, we went on a date — and that was Joanne, my wife.”

Joanne Billingsley, then Joanne Croft, had come to Texas A&M from San Antonio and majored in education instruction and curriculum.

Together they made hundreds of Aggie memories, from Midnight Yell and Aggie Football games, to both graduating in 1975.

“During the second half of my undergraduate tenure, I greatly benefited from a work-study program in the Department of Education,” Joanne said. “I was able to interact with professors and staff to learn more about my future profession as a teacher.”

Lee Billingsley.
Lee Billingsley.
Joanne Billingsley.
Joanne Billingsley.

After graduating in 1975, the young couple moved to Colorado, where Joanne began her teaching career and Lee earned a master’s in geology from Colorado School of Mines. 

Then, in 1979, they returned to Texas A&M — this time with a baby in tow.

“I was pursuing my doctorate and Joanne was earning her master’s degree, and we had one baby when we showed up and we had another while in graduate school,” he said.

“Those were some of the most fun years we’ve ever had. She had classes in the afternoon, and I had classes in the morning. So, she would bring the babies to me in the geology department in the afternoon, and we would play in the bottom floor of the building. The kids rolled down ramps in rolling office chairs there, and then we’d go to the Texas A&M farm and pretend it was our zoo, and then finally eat dinner in the MSC cafeteria. It was such a special time, and we have a lot of fun memories of those years.”

Joanne earned her master’s degree in school and public health education from Texas A&M in 1981. Their family grew to three children, and she went on to teach school for 16 additional years, eventually becoming an award-winning educator in Texas and a leader in training teachers.

Lee completed his Ph.D. in geology in 1983, and then began working in the oil and gas industry. In 1983 he founded an independent exploration and production company, Sandia Oil & Gas Corp.

When it was purchased by Abraxas Petroleum Corp. in 1998, he began serving as vice president of exploration at Abraxas Petroleum, where he supervised both conventional and unconventional prospect generation and execution. He has also been very active in professional organizations and served as president of American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) from 2006 to 2007.

Legacy And Vision

In 2007, Joanne was named Texas Regional Teacher of the Year, and she is now a nationally acclaimed author, educational consultant, presenter, and author; her books include Aim to Grow Your Brain and Making Words Real.

“I am passionate about supporting educators and sharing creative strategies for building brain-friendly, language-rich interactive classrooms,” she said.

Lee Billingsley is now the founder and president of Windridge Oil & Gas LP, and together they have been continuous supporters of Texas A&M. 

Their two sons, Michael Billingsley ’03 and Matthew Billingsley ’05, also graduated from Texas A&M. Their oldest child, Anne, “probably already felt she had been to A&M as a baby and toddler,” the Billingsleys joked, so she graduated from Southwestern University.

“Looking back, I was just a little out-of-state student when I first came to Texas A&M, and I desperately needed that scholarship,” he reflected. “If I hadn’t had that, I’m not sure what would have happened.”

“We wanted to pay it forward. I had an opportunity because of a scholarship from other Aggies before me, so this gift was a chance to continue that for the next generation, so that they will have opportunities as well.”

By Leslie Lee ’09

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