“I want to tell you something,” he said to me on many occasions during the quarter-century of our relationship. “As long as I’ve been in this business, I’m still learning because there’s still so much I don’t know.”
That was Carol Freedenthal, one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. So smart, in fact, that he was always the first to admit he still had so much to learn about a changing business in an even faster changing world. For someone like me, who would never know a tenth as much about the business as he did, those words taught me a lifelong lesson.
It’s with a heavy heart and a tear in my eye that I take the liberty of writing this last From The Burnertip column, for as you may know by now, Carol, our longtime contributing editor and devoted colleague, died July 16 at a Houston hospital after a short illness. He was 80.
Carol was so much more than just a colleague and contributing editor during the 20 years he wrote for Pipeline & Gas Journal. He was a close personal friend, simply irreplaceable. Carol was from Georgia, attended George Tech and was a chemical engineer. He worked as a manager of several large companies and was an expert witness in litigation trials.
Our paths first crossed about 25 years ago when I embarked on a project that I hoped would launch a new career. I worked on the business desk of the now-defunct Houston Post and decided I would write a book on the petroleum industry that would discuss the key issues facing the business from an executive’s perspective. I often saw Carol’s name in the paper as he was the principal of a thriving consulting company, named Jofree, and was a foremost expert on natural gas, so much so that his annual price forecasts were closely followed by the industry.
Carol was among the first I contacted for an interview to which he quickly agreed. We met in his office in a high-rise tower in downtown Houston. The room was a bit disheveled, which I could appreciate, the antithesis of his brilliant and uncluttered engineering mind. We did two interviews for the book, The Oil Makers, Insiders Look At The Petroleum Industry, the first that day and the second in February 1995, shortly before the book was published.
In between, we became friends. I’m not exactly sure why or how it happened. I never asked him. Perhaps he saw an inquisitive fellow determined to break into his industry and wanted to help. Maybe he liked talking about business and life in general to someone he could relate to, as there aren’t a lot of Jewish people in the energy business.
We frequently met for lunch or breakfast. He suggested a number of names for me to reach out to for The Oil Makers, explaining their significance to the industry, what they could add to the book, and often paving the way for me by contacting them personally. At one point in 1995, he, a well-known PR executive and I discussed starting our own PR business. We each had something to bring to the table.
Shortly afterwards, Carol suffered a heart attack and underwent open-heart surgery. His recovery was slow and arduous. In fact, he never fully recovered his health, and his consultancy slowly began to suffer the consequences. If you’re not there and can’t satisfy your clients at a moment’s notice, business has a tendency to go elsewhere. There went the PR shop, which disappointed me because I was living off of freelance work after the Post closed in April 1995, as I waited for my book to get published, which Rice University Press did later that year.
I was hired as editor of P&GJ in December 1995. Carol and I chatted on the phone and still met occasionally for lunch. One day I approached him with the possibility of writing a column for our journal. With his expertise and knowledge of the issues and players, this would be a win-win for us while giving him additional exposure. It was my first contribution to the success of our magazine and as it turned out, one of my most important.
During the 20 years he wrote his semi-monthly From The Burnertip column, Carol covered every conceivable issue involving natural gas, crude oil and liquids products. He wrote about the Keystone Pipeline, both the one already in service and the one still waiting presidential approval; the perceived need at one time for LNG imports, then later the switch to LNG exports. He wrote about the shale boom as it was happening, picked out the most likely targets for development and explained why. He discussed pending legislation in Congress and on the president’s desk, and what the implications were for the industry.
Carol also knew his way around statistics, much like a baseball fan can relate to qualitative analysis, except he explained what those numbers meant so that even a neophyte understood them. He continued to delve into natural gas and oil pricing, again with uncanny accuracy. He would call me a few times a month to discuss future columns, so what he came up with was often an amalgamation of our thoughts. Between his contacts and mine, we were always certain to produce an informative piece.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few complications involved in the process. Like many truly brilliant people, Carol had so much he wanted to say in a limited amount of space and when his columns reached my desk, usually right on deadline, they required every bit of editing skill I had. But the end result was something that he and I and our readers could live with. Carol’s column developed quite a following through the years, both in terms of reader feedback and our third-party surveys.
During these years, Carol’s consulting business grew smaller, though he still retained several clients. I feel honored that P&GJ helped keep him active in the business until the very end. As his business slowed, something much more important began to consume Carol: the grandchildren being raised by his three daughters, Robin in Dallas, Shelly in Los Angeles and Stacey in Denver, and their husbands. Carol was enchanted by each of his grandchildren, remarking how bright and savvy they were, even as infants.
His love and adoration for them just continued to grow, and more often than not, Carol called me from one of their homes about his next column. I have never known anyone who was so dedicated to his family. He and his wife of 54 years, Beverly, could not miss any of those grandchildren’s important events, be it a bar of bat mitzvah, graduation or a birthday. Last summer, Carol’s son-in-law in Los Angeles died suddenly, leaving a widow and three teenagers. Carol and Beverly became much more than just grandparents in helping to ease that family’s grief.
He was also an instrumental part of our annual Pipeline Opportunities Conference from its inception in 2005. He helped me assemble the agenda every year, moderated sessions, interviewed speakers, and eloquently summarized the conference at the beginning and end of the day. This past year he brought in our keynote speaker, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski. Carol was also like an official greeter, speaking to as many people as possible and making sure that each of them felt welcome. He helped our conference become a premiere event for the North American pipeline industry.
Carol wasn’t feeling well at our last conference on March 25. He was looking forward to celebrating his 80th birthday May 5 when the daughters would come to Houston for the celebration; then he and Beverly had a few more graduations on their agenda. I never saw Carol again, nor did he make those trips. He called me in May and June, apologizing for being unable to do his column. Then one morning in July, Stacey called at Carol’s request to tell me he wasn’t going to be able to do his column that week. A few days later, he passed away.
It’s impossible to sum up a man’s life, much less a friendship, with just words but it’s been cathartic for me to finish Carol’s work. Let’s end with those first two words that Carol would say every time he met someone. It’s how I choose to remember him.