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L.R. "Bob" French Jr. Dies

Longtime horsemen bred champion Little Blue Sheep.
August 4, 2013

Bob French

L.R. "Bob" French Jr., a respected independent oil and gas operator, rancher and horseman, died at his home late Friday. He was 87.

Born in Brownwood, Texas, on September 17, 1926, French was the son of Rita Kirkpatrick Bettis, a still-life countryside and wildflower artist, and Lloyd Robert French, co-founder of the Permian Basin Oil Show. He was a resident of Midland and Fort Worth and Palm Springs, California.

French was also raised and greatly influenced by his grandparents, Rita McClelland and Ernest Earl Kirkpatrick. His grandfather, who was descended from that hardy pioneer stock of early Texans, passed many of his beliefs and a strong work ethic to his grandson. After attending the University of Texas at Austin where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, French became a lifelong, staunch supporter of his alma mater and its football program.

In 1945, French joined the U.S. Air Force where he earned his wings, and his love of flying was born. He began piloting his own planes in the early 1950s and acquired his jet pilot license in the early 1970s. He launched his business career in Odessa in 1946 at French Tool and Supply. In the business world, he was known for driving a hard bargain, yet always being honest and fair; he was "A man of his word, a man of integrity."

Being inducted into the All-American Wildcatters in 1982 honored him and the work he accomplished. Although he traveled extensively and enjoyed hunting expeditions in remote areas of the world, French will be remembered for his unique love of the state of Texas. French accomplished much and enjoyed many talents. He was an avid sportsman, especially enjoying golf, tennis and quail hunting. He enjoyed ranching on a personal level as well as for business.

He was involved in both American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing for many years and won many stakes races with both breeds. He was considered an outstanding horseman and received multiple honors from both the American Quarter Horse Association and Thoroughbred associations for the champions he raised.

One of his best Quarter Horses was Little Blue Sheep, an indestructible campaigner and two-time champion mare. Known for her quick acceleration from the gate, Little Blue Sheep won eight stakes races in California, including the 1976 Vessels Maturity (now Grade 1), for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. While Lukas is well known for his Thoroughbred record, with 19 Breeders’ Cup victories, 40 years ago, he was Quarter Horse racing’s leading trainer.

"She was my first good one for Bob French,” said Lukas of Little Blue Sheep. “She was one of the best looking mares I've ever had.”

In a career that spanned four years, Little Blue Sheep started 78 times and won 25 races, including 14 stakes victories. Foaled in 1972, the gritty sorrel mare was a St Bar daughter out of the equally gritty Miss Olene. St Bar, also bred by Bob, was a Three Bars (TB) son out of Bella St Mary, a daughter of Spotted Bull (TB).

French and Lukas combined to race many top Thoroughbreds in the late 70s and 80s including multiple grade stakes winner Terlingua ($423,896), the dam of all-time leading Thoroughbred sire Storm Cat.

In addition to his wife of 50 years, Marcia Fuller French, Bob is survived by five children, Drue Boyles and her husband, David, Robin French and his wife, Anne, Fuller French and his wife, Kara, Bo French and his wife, Sheridan, and Powhatan French and his wife, Alyson; 12 grandchildren, Perry Howell, Sharber Howell, Lloyd French, Eve French, Millicent French, Anabelle French, Bobby Fulton French, West French, Mazarine French, Hawk French, Hattan French and Lyles French; half brother, Kirk French and his wife, Barbara; half sister, Julee French, and their families.

Services will be held Monday at 2 p.m. in the sanctuary of Broadway Baptist Church, 305 W. Broadway Ave., in Fort Worth with a reception to follow at River Crest Country Club. French will be laid to rest privately in Greenwood Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, consideration of contributions to Community Hospice of Texas, 6100 Western Place, Fort Worth, Texas 76107, or a charity of choice, in his memory, is suggested.