BARTONVILLE — To hear their neighbors tell, Rex and Renda Tillerson are nice, normal people.
The family bought its Bartonville land and home before Rex Tillerson became chairman and chief executive officer of ExxonMobil in 2006.
Now President-elect Donald Trump has nominated him to serve as the next U.S. secretary of state. And his neighbors along Dove Creek Road are buzzing about how life might change in their rustic corner of Denton County.
“It’s quiet living out here,” said Pattie Carter, who lives nearby on Dove Creek Road. “Now it could be like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
Tillerson, who is 64, and his family are connected to Denton County in many ways.
They’ve attended services at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Denton. Tyler Tillerson, their youngest child, graduated from Argyle High School in 2006. Rex Tillerson makes time for town business, including attending Bartonville town council meetings when the local issue matters to him and his family.
The Tillersons bought their Dove Creek Road property in November 2001, a few months after ExxonMobil named Tillerson senior vice president. Set up on a hillside, the two-story, brick-and-stone home is surrounded by about 20 acres filled with horse barns, stables and arenas.
Carter, a longtime Bartonville resident and businesswoman, told the Denton Record-Chronicle that she first met Renda Tillerson when the Tillerson family dog got loose and ended up near her goat pen, about a quarter-mile down Dove Creek Road.
The neighborhood is more pasture and paddock than rows of houses. Neighbors often meet while chasing after loose livestock or fixing a fence. Most Bartonville homes are large and surrounded by acreage. The average home value is $500,000.
The Tillersons breed and train cutting horses on their property, known as Bar RR Ranches. Cowboys value cutting horses for their keen ability to separate a cow that needs tending from the herd. Bred more for sport than utility these days, cutting horses are trained to work in teams. Bar RR also breeds and sells Black Angus cattle, although the herd is on a ranch in Electra, close to Rex Tillerson’s hometown of Wichita Falls.
The couple owns other property in North Texas, including houses in Lantana, Wautaga and a two-story house overlooking River Crest Country Club in Fort Worth, which is Renda (St. Clair) Tillerson’s hometown.
Knowing how native Texans feel about their home state, some neighbors wonder whether the couple will move to Washington, D.C., or simply bring new security measures to town when they return home from world jaunts.
ExxonMobil spokesman Bill Holbrook said the company doesn’t comment on security measures “as a matter of practice.”
Bartonville Police Chief Corry Blount said Tillerson’s security team has not contacted him yet. But since the appointment to secretary of state is not final, speculation about how life on Dove Creek Road might change is premature, he said.
“This is new territory for us, having a top diplomat from your community,” Blount said.
Blount said he isn’t concerned about impending changes. ExxonMobil already provides a security team for Tillerson, he said. Local law enforcement will handle any new measures when the time comes, he added.
U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, noted that he and Tillerson are fellow county residents and that Tillerson is one of his constituents.
“Mr. Tillerson has worked extensively with foreign leaders cultivating relationships that will only prove to benefit U.S. interests around the world,” Burgess said in a prepared statement. “From the pipelines to the platforms, his experience leading the global efforts of one of America’s most successful companies has equipped him with the understanding and insight to navigate the current world stage.”
Fellow Texan James A. Baker III, a Tillerson friend who served as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, said he recommended the oil company executive to Trump’s transition team. Baker’s Houston law firm, Baker Botts, has represented ExxonMobil in litigation.
“I am confident he will understand the global challenges facing the United States and has the intellect [to] address them,” Baker said in a prepared statement.
Tillerson’s nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, but that may prove difficult because of his business connections to Russia.
In 2013, Tillerson received an Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation. The award came after a 2011 joint-venture agreement between ExxonMobil and Rosneft, an oil company primarily owned by the Russian government, to produce oil in the Arctic region.
According to a political analysis by Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and John McCain, R-Arizona, have already publicly expressed reservations about Tillerson in the post. The opposition of those three, particularly Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could be enough to kill the nomination before the full Senate unless Tillerson finds support among Senate Democrats, Silver wrote.
For now, all the neighbors along Dove Creek Road can do is wait to see what happens next. If Tillerson does get the top diplomat job, Blount expects the Bartonville Police Department will get a call.
“We aren’t in the business of protecting diplomats and cabinet members, but we’ll do our part, of course,” Blount said. “It will be a once-in-a-lifetime deal for us.”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.