OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Friends, family and employees of Aubrey McClendon gathered at dawn on Saturday at Oklahoma City’s riverfront to pay their respects to the U.S. energy entrepreneur who died this week in a car crash, a day after being indicted on bid-rigging charges.
Several hundred people came together in Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District, a recreation area along the river that McClendon helped develop after co-founding Chesapeake Energy Corp (CHK.N) in 1989 and turning it into one of the leaders of the U.S. fracking boom.
The ceremonial “paddle out” by rowers and paddlers on the Oklahoma River was held before a more formal public memorial service for McClendon on Monday at Crossings Community Church.
Oklahoma City has long celebrated McClendon for helping revive the state’s moribund economy with an oil and gas frenzy that transformed it from a sleepy backwater to a vibrant urban center. He invested in restaurants and brought the National Basketball Association’s Thunder franchise to Oklahoma City from Seattle, where the team was known as the Supersonics.
“Aubrey loved the phrase ‘onward and upward’ and that epitomizes what has happened to Oklahoma City. Let’s take time to reflect on how many lives he had affected,” said Mike Knopp, executive director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation.
“(This) is a special opportunity to recognize a special individual, a fallen athlete and someone who has made a tremendous impact on our city,” he added.
McClendon was not without controversy. He was known for lavish spending and making risky bets worth billions of dollars on vast tracts of land that could potentially be drilled for oil and natural gas.
In 2013, he was ousted from Chesapeake, the company he co-founded at age 29 and turned into the No. 2 U.S. natural gas producer, after a corporate governance crisis and revelations that he had personal stakes in wells owned by Chesapeake.
McClendon soon bounced back and raised billions of dollars by setting up a new company, American Energy Partners. But there were nagging legal woes.
The day before his Chevy Tahoe slammed into a cement wall in an accident police are still investigating, McClendon was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on allegations of violating antitrust rules by rigging bids for land. He denied the charges.
On Thursday, a makeshift shrine of flowers, wooden crosses, and an oil driller’s hard hat formed near the site of the car crash that killed McClendon, 56, on Wednesday.
Julie Havers, who attended the memorial on Saturday, said McClendon will be remembered by locals for the lives he changed.
“It was a very touching tribute to Aubrey. I wanted to come to show my respects,” she said.
Reporting by Heide Brandes; Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Tiffany Wu