Curtis Mewbourne, Texas oil company founder, dies at 86

(Reuters) - Curtis Mewbourne, founder of one of the largest closely held oil companies in the United States, died on Thursday at age 86.

His company, Mewbourne Oil Co., operates more than 2,100 oil and gas wells in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, with a staff of about 400 people, according its website.

Mewbourne founded the company in 1965 and expanded it over the years into one of the most active drillers in the Delaware portion of Permian, the top U.S. shale field. The Tyler, Texas-based company has long been seen a prized acquisition because of its holdings there.

“Few individuals have had the opportunity to achieve the level of success," said Todd Staples, president of trade association the Texas Oil and Gas Association. Mewbourne demonstrated a “drive for excellence in all his endeavors and his passion was contagious," Staples said.

Mewbourne graduated from Oklahoma University with a degree in petroleum engineering. For his contributions over the years, the school granted him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, and in 2007 named the Mewbourne College of Earth & Energy for him.

After graduation in 1957, Mewbourne spent a brief period as an officer in the U.S. Army and went on to join the First National Bank in Dallas, Texas, before starting Mewbourne Oil.

He died at his home in Tyler surrounded by his wife Joanne and family members. A memorial service is planned for Monday, following a private burial, according to the Stewart Family Funeral Home.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Stephen Coates)