WARREN - Curtis Thomas is a straight shooter.
If he knows about it or has a thought on it, odds are good that he'll share his insight, be it on his life, his business or his employer.
The new director of government and public affairs for BP in Ohio is the first company official to relocate to Trumbull County in advance of the impending oil and natural gas boom.
Tribune Chronicle / Dan Pompili
Curtis Thomas, BP’s director of government and public affairs, is shown in his new and temporary office in Chase Tower in downtown Warren.
Thomas sat down in his new and temporary office in downtown Warren's Chase Tower for a candid interview about his company, his professional experience and his personal background.
Thomas is still unpacking and has yet to sell his home in New Orleans. His office is even more bare than the second floor suite in which it temporarily is based while BP explores more permanent quarters in the Valley. But Thomas decorates the room with his jovial personality and honest humor.
The events and people and circumstances of his life all seem to have conspired to bring him to BP from a time well before his birth in 1963.
1963 - Born in Fairbanks, Alaska
1980 - Graduated from high school, receiving an academic scholarship from Sohio (now BP)
1984 - Graduated from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where he majored in petroleum technology and minored in journalism; began work as a petroleum technician trainee
1986 - Began working as a camera man for KGHX 1300 AM, where he worked his way up to reporter, assignment editor, late night anchor, sports anchor, main anchor and news director
1997 - Started up the Fox News station in Fairbanks, where he was main anchor and news director
1999 - Hired by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., taking the position of director of communications (BP?owns 51 percent of the company)
2005-06 - Became BP's director of Government and Public Affairs in Durango, Colo.
April 21, 2010 - An explosion in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a move to New Orleans to become a community liason on Grand Isle, where he covered the Deep Water Horizon spill and related issues
2011 - Became the Louisiana Director of Media Relations for the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization
2012 - Offered an opportunity in Ohio and moved to his new BP office in Warren
His grandfather, the Rev. Leroy Edwards, was a Southern Baptist preacher in Oklahoma. In the 1950s, when military bases in Alaska began bringing black enlisted men to that state, Edwards received a call from the Southern Baptist Leadership Convention to come form a Baptist church in Fairbanks.
He did and after a short time, he called his daughter, Naomi, and her husband, JC, still at home in Oklahoma with two young daughters, and told them it was a land of opportunity. They soon followed him.
Thomas was born and raised in the Land of the Midnight Sun, the youngest sibling to Koweata, Althea, Tonya, Keno and Lavelle.
When he graduated high school in 1980, the first step along his path to BP came to pass when he received an academic scholarship from Sohio (now BP). The only caveat to the scholarship was that recipients had to major in Petroleum Technology.
"I didn't have the money to go to school so I took the scholarship, but my secret passion was journalism," he said.
He went to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where he majored in petroleum technology and minored in journalism. He remembers the boredom with his major classes.
But in 1984, he graduated and began working as a petroleum technician trainee in Prudhoe Bay. He remembers with candor the difficulties he faced working with white roughnecks straight from Oklahoma and Texas, who worked on the oil rigs in the Bay.
Most were in their 40s or 50s and set in their ways, and they were not happy about taking orders from a 23-year-old black upstart.
"It was miserable. I hated every minute of it and I swore I would not work in that field again," he said. But Thomas said he still worked hard to make inroads with the workers and was able to break down some small barriers.
And ultimately life had a way of balancing out for him.
He was working odd hours at a radio station, KGHX 1300 AM, at the same time and managed to meet a producer at KTVF Channel 11 in Fairbanks. In 1986, he left Prudhoe Bay and petroleum behind and began working as a camera man. Over the years, he worked his way up to a reporter, then assignment editor. Soon he was a late night anchor on the 11 o'clock news, then sports anchor, main anchor and finally news director.
In 1997, after 11 years, he left KTVF to start up the Fox News station in Fairbanks, where he was main anchor and news director. He stayed for two years.
But in 1999, Thomas realized he'd reached a plateau as a newsman in Alaska and made the decision to advance his career.
"I knew I had to either move to a bigger TV market somewhere outside of Alaska or get into a new field," he said.
He applied all over and received a job offer from a station in Carmel, Calif. But before he could accept the job, he received another call.
This one was from the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the operators of the 800-mile Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. The company is owned 51 percent by BP. They asked him to apply for the position of director of communications.
"The money was right, and the opportunity was very exciting and it gave me a chance to stay in Alaska, so I took that position," he said. "I loved it because I worked with the community, doing community relations events and community investments."
In 2005-06, he decided the time had come to advance again. He began to seek other opportunities in the BP system. He found a job as director of government and public affairs in Durango, Colo.
His career and family continued to thrive there. He again worked in the community with political leaders at all levels and worked on community investments, following his daughter's extra curricular activities along the way. Life was good.
At 1:15 a.m. on April 21, 2010, the phone rang.
It was Thomas's boss in Houston.
"He told me I needed to fly to New Orleans, that there'd been an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "And that was the last day of normalcy for me for about two years."
He caught a 6 a.m. flight and from that moment on, he worked the Deep Water Horizon spill and related issues. He was a community liason on Grand Isle, the go-between for BP with the government and the community. During the time, BP decided to start a whole new arm of the company to deal directly with revitalization efforts relative to the spill.
Put another notch in Thomas's promotion belt.
In 2011, he became the Louisiana Director of Media Relations for the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.
In April and May of this year, things had begun to slow down. Issues relative to the spill had been greatly improved, and media interest had shifted and decreased. Things in New Orleans and Louisiana were at a point that one man could manage affairs for two states.
The company began calling Thomas about the opportunity in Ohio.
"The job wasn't done but we'd made great strides. And I felt it was time for me to take on a new challenge," he said. Thomas added that he learned much in the Gulf and wanted to carry water for the company into new territory.
"We've worked very hard to facilitate restoration and recovery and and it was very productive work. And though there's still more to do men and women have worked side by side to improve things in those states. My message here would be to explain that BP is a safer company, we're an extremely reliable operator and we're a great community partner."
Thomas said that in prior situations, BP has already had operations in place and he needed only facilitate their plan. But Ohio's opportunity is raw and must be built from the ground up. Thomas will be building strategies and programs to implement specifically here in Ohio, a challenge he relishes.
He said he wants to be able to facilitate relationships with the community as he has in the past and to build educational facilities to dispel rumors about the company and the industry and allay people's fears.
"There's a sweet spot where all of that intersects with doing good business and that's where we like to operate," he said.
Thomas's wife Leslie and daughter Alexis arrived Friday evening. Alexis will attend Howland High School. His other daughter, Jordan, is attending college in Philadelphia.
The New Orleans Saints fan said he looks forward to getting to know the high school football scene, and learning how to do business on the local golf courses, where he plans to begin taking golf lessons.
"I understand a lot of work can get done on the golf course," he said.