Whether flying into the teeth of anti-aircraft fire during World War II, trading oil with Iran under the shah or traveling the world as a sought-after consultant for oil companies, Donald Falkingham always seemed to operate from a position of strength.
Among his greatest strengths was a light touch with people, including himself. Mr. Falkingham laughed easily and often, telling his family he tried to live by the credo, "Be happy, and make other people happy."
He capitalized on expertise in engineering and political skill in a long career with Amoco Corp., which later merged with BP, including time as general manager in charge of oil recovery and production outside of the United States.
Employees saw him as tough but fair. Friends and family saw the lighter side first, savored his barbecue and looked forward to his alcohol-based "milk punch" at Christmas.
Mr. Falkingham died of bone marrow cancer Jan. 17 at his South Pasadena home. He was 93.
While he led Amoco's London-based international oil operations, the company broke new diplomatic ground with Iran and discovered oil reserves in the North Sea. Mr. Falkingham often met with heads of state.
"Iran was giving them a lot of problems," said his wife, Joella. "So they sent him in because he was a tough negotiator."
Mr. Falkingham grew up in Lexington, Ill., with dreams of becoming a pilot. After graduating from the Missouri School of Mines (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) in 1941 and starting his career with an oil exploration business started by Standard Oil, he suddenly got his chance.
In the Army Air Forces over northern Italy, Mr. Falkingham repeatedly bombed targets at low altitude under heavy fire, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross. He left the service with the rank of major.
He resumed his career with Amoco, rising to the top of international production. He lived in Tulsa, Okla., while working in Belgium, the Ukraine and elsewhere. Mr. Falkingham retired in 1978 but remained a top industry consultant.
In 1993, his wife of 46 years, Mary, died. The following year he took a position with McDermott International, an international engineering company, which was opening an office in Romania.
In 1998, the hard-core Republican married Joella Hall, a Democrat. "We didn't really talk about it too much," said Joella Falkingham, 89. Mr. Falkingham favored expanding domestic oil production, she said.
In recent years, he began to open up more about his wartime experiences. In October, he went with his brother, Robert, and a delegation of other veterans to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Ever upbeat, Mr. Falkingham faced terminal cancer with cheer, his wife said.
"He said, 'I've lived a lot of places. When I die, it's just a change of address, as far as I'm concerned.'"
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.
* * *
Donald Herbert Falkingham
Born: Dec. 13, 1918
Died: Jan. 17, 2012
Survivors: wife Joella; daughters Deanna and Janis; stepchildren Fred, Debby and Timothy Daily; brother Robert; sister Mary; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.