She was the first person in her family to go to college. Even the successful oil man who paid her way never went to college himself. A petite woman with bright eyes and a quick smile, to this day, Ann Primer is a bundle of energy and grateful for her education.
As a geology major in college, Ann especially loved learning to map in 3-D. She loved contemplating ancient history’s records stored in stone. Archeology and the search for Native American history were among some of her favorite subjects.
Retired Tyler geologist, Allen Locklin, was ahead of her at the University of Texas and was one of her lab instructors. (He and his wife, Nancy, were among their first friends, years later, when Ann and her husband, Charlie, settled in Tyler.)
She was one of only three women in her class (1956) of 163 geologists at the university. She loved “being in the field.” Searching for rock samples was hot, sweaty work, rewarded by the glittering find of a geode or fossils.
“Three University co-eds who prefer the dazzling beauty in historic caverns to sunbathing at Barton’s will soon don blue jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and heavy walking shoes for a two-week field trip around Fredericksburg, Mason, Burnet, and Llano,” reported The Summer Texan, the University of Texas’ student newspaper, in an article dated Tuesday, August 17, 1954, entitled “Three Girls, 160 Boys Plan Geology ‘Date’”. Ann saved the article because she remembers the thrill of collecting rocks and data with fond enthusiasm.
“I learned to measure by stride,” she laughs, explaining how many of her steps equaled one yard. It is easy to imagine the men in the class outdistancing her in their strides but still having trouble keeping up with her energy levels and quick intellectual capacity, especially her math talents.
“Except when it comes to slide rules,” she laughs.
Ann felt privileged to acquire the skills that went with her chosen field. She especially wanted to succeed in honor of the generous man who made her education possible, her uncle, Ernest Wilson.
Uncle Ernest served in WWI under Pershing. A bright young man, he was invited to serve as the general’s private secretary after the war, but the oil patch was calling him.
There was a discovery near Galveston in the 1920s and the lure and glamour of the infant oil industry was just too much for Ernest to resist. Of the four Wilson brothers, Ernest was the oldest. Giles, Ann’s dad, was the youngest. The brothers grew up on a farm just north of Fort Worth. By the 1930’s, Ernest was having success in the oil industry, including several years of drilling near Abilene.
With WWII looming, the oil industry felt the pressure to discover fields for the sake of national security. America’s ability to participate in defending the world against the Nazi threat was being insured in places like Kilgore, Arp, and Midland and all across other southern states like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Ann’s parents spent her childhood making ends meet throughout the Great Depression. Her father worked continuously, piecing together jobs focused on his near genius ability to crunch numbers and his love of all things electrical. During WWII, her dad (who was nearly blind) and her mother, Mildred Louise Harper Wilson, volunteered in every way to help the war effort as did all Americans. Ann fondly remembers her mother as a powerhouse volunteer with the Red Cross. Ann learned the value of volunteering to help others in crisis moments of their lives.
When the war was fought and won, the Wilson family was coming of age and leaving the farm. Ann wasn’t the only niece or nephew Uncle Ernest sent to college; several of the kids he educated made the oil industry their career. Others chose education or business.
Scholarships as we think of them today developed later, mostly thanks to Ernest’s generation and the generations of successful, hard-working people who followed after. As each child went to school, Ernest simply paid the bills for a whole generation of their family. He did so in joyful, extravagant style.
Ann’s mom was an exceptional seamstress, so store-bought clothes were not part of the family budget. Mildred made everything Ann wore throughout her childhood. In preparing her to enter the university, Ernest instructed Ann’s aunt to take her shopping. Imagine Ann’s delight when her aunt took her on a shopping spree to Neiman Marcus for her very first store-bought clothes.
“She even took me to lunch at the Zodiac Room,” says Ann, of downtown Dallas’ most treasured restaurant traditions. “It was an experience I had never had. We didn’t eat out!” Quite a glamorous treat for the girl raised in cowtown.
With suitcases stocked full of the trendiest new fashions, the co-ed arrived in Austin, ready to make friends and fill her brain with all the skills she would need to impact her world for good. Between her mother’s Red Cross volunteering and her uncle’s commitment to education and the oil industry, the seeds were already germinating in young Ann’s heart for the person she would become.
She loves to tell the story of her first date with the man who would become her husband, Charlie Primer. On the day of a field trip, she came home sunbaked, her skin burnt through her shirt. She declined an invitation for a date that evening from a fellow geology student, telling him all she wanted was to wash off the dust of the day and tuck in for the night with a good book. What she didn’t mention was she had a strict rule, which was crucial since the odds were in the female geology students’ favor.
“I never dated classmates; it was too confusing!” she laughs.
Later, after she had rested, Charlie called and asked her on their first date to go get a coke. On a whim of creativity, the kind of thing he was always known for, Charlie snagged a fraternity brother to join them, a talented guitar player to serenade this cute gal he wanted to impress.
Imagine Ann’s surprise when Charlie came to pick her up with the exact same guy who she had already turned down for a date! Charlie managed to eliminate all competition before he left for medical school in Dallas.
Ann finished her geology degree in 1956 and they were married. She entered the work force in an oil business downturn. Chance Vought took one look at her natural math and administrative skills and hired her for top secret aeronautic and technological developments during the Cold War. To this day, she keeps her vow of secrecy needed to secure the top security clearance she gained; a status even her boss did not have.
With the birth of their first child, Ann made the decision to stay home. “I liked raising my family. My husband was glad I could stay home.” She looks back at that strategic decision with satisfaction. She is especially proud of her grandchildren. One of her proudest moments was when her granddaughter, Ellen Krafve Trant, was quoted in the Tyler newspaper about how her grandmother inspires her.
“Growing up, I was fortunate to get to learn from my grandparents,” said Ellen in a 2014 article, “My grandmother, Ann Primer, was particularly passionate about wanting to give back and have a positive impact on those around her…Because of her, I have always had a deep desire to help others and give back to our community as she has done.”
“I was pleased that what I had done affected her. And it affected my kids. Not because I was a good geologist, but because I was a good mother,” says Ann, with a gentle smile.
Her Uncle Ernest’s devotion to the next generation and education is still paying it forward in Ann’s life, through the way she inspires others.
“Giving to others is its own reward,” Ann adds. She is grateful for all the privileges and opportunities she enjoyed along the way. Learning to be resourceful through the Depression and WWII, being the first in her family to go to college, being among a pivotal group of college-educated women who broke stereotypes to contribute in all industries, like the aeronautic, technology and oil industries, getting to stay home and raise her children, and finally, getting to give back to the community she loves to this day; all these blessings fill her heart with joyful gratitude.
From her uncle, Ann learned the value of paying it forward. For future generations, she has this advice: “Set your goals and stay with it.” Good advice from a gracious and pioneering lady with a great deal of experience at reaching her goals.
Mom, grandmother, mom-in-law; in our family Ann Primer is a living legend. She really hates the spot light, only letting others honor her when she sees the advantage to someone else. In this case, we persuaded her that telling her story had historic value. We firmly believe her story will encourage many others, so we share it here with grateful hearts! May her spirit of gratefulness and her sense of humor be infectious and energize you for any challenges you face today!