As a petroleum engineer who once worked in Project Management in the 1970s and early ‘80s, Perry Donaldson understands how Saudi Aramco has the power to transform society. Donaldson was part of the team that helped to build the Master Gas Program, allowing the Kingdom to take advantage of the vast gas reserves to create domestic electricity. He also helped to build the East-West Pipeline, which continues to deliver crude oil to a growing number of refineries along the Red Sea Coast.
“I liked it over here,” said Donaldson, who retired from the company in 1984 after 12 years of service. “I was in Project Management in Dhahran, and I felt like I created something,” he said with a smile. “That feels pretty good.” If Donaldson was feeling satisfaction for a job well done, he wasn’t alone. He was just one of more than 700 Aramcons visiting the Kingdom during the recent 3rd Aramcon Reunion. Many of them gathered on March 15 at the Half Moon Bay Executive Beach for a special dinner hosted by Saudi Aramco president and CEO Khalid A. Al-Falih, dining under the stars, meeting up with familiar faces, and being reintroduced to the music, arts, food and culture of a country that most still consider to be home. Shirley Seymour spent 22 satisfying years as a nurse in Abqaiq until 2012, and gained a close sense of camaraderie with her co-workers at the Abqaiq clinic. In retirement, she sees herself as a kind of ambassador for Saudi culture back in the United States. Her home has a hallway devoted to Saudi arts and culture. “I have such a love of Saudi culture and the Saudi people,” said Seymour, who worked in the clinic in Abqaiq, and whose husband Cornell worked with the vice president for Southern Area Oil Operations. “When I go back home, I tell people, ‘You won’t believe how warm and hospitable the Saudi people are.’ I still miss the community feeling we had in Abqaiq.” Her daughter Zakiyah, who was born in Abqaiq, agrees. “When I tell people where I grew up, I describe it as ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” she says, referring to a popular American television show of the 1950s. “It was very open, very safe, and community centered. But we also combined that with the Model United Nations. In my classroom, no group was a majority. We had three or four Asians, three Nigerians, Jordanians, Americans. Everybody was here.”
Among the Aramcons participating in the Reunion Welcome Dinner, this was a common theme: Aramco will always feel like home. Aysha Nadir left 30 years ago, after spending her childhood in Dammam, as her father Masoud ur-Rahman worked as a drilling engineer in Abqaiq, Ras Tanura, and Dhahran. She and four of her seven sisters returned for this year’s reunion. Aysha said she can’t believe how much Saudi Arabia has changed in the past three decades. “Saudi Arabia has changed a lot; the cities are more developed, with tall buildings and shopping malls,” she said. Her sister, Faiza Masoud, now a rural doctor at a clinic in the Pakistani town of Emmettpur East, says she enjoyed visiting the places where she spent her formative years growing up with Saudi Aramco: the beach at Half Moon Bay, the Third Street pool, and her old family home in Dammam. “God gave me the best of the whole world: The best of an English-language education at Saudi Aramco schools, with Pakistani culture at home,” Masoud said. “I was born here in Saudi Arabia, and we left by the time I reached the age of seven. But this was home to me.”
Retiree John P. LeSage said that when he sees all the office buildings and residential areas that have built up between Dhahran and al-Khobar, he feels a sense of accomplishment. The reason: LeSage worked in the company’s home ownership development program that subdivided empty tracts of land into residential and commercial properties — a program that gave many Saudi Aramco employees the opportunity to build new homes. “All my career, I was subdividing the desert,” said LeSage, who retired after 30 years of working on home ownership projects in al-Khobar, Abqaiq, Al Hasa, ‘Udhailiyah, and Dhahran. “I left in 1986, and between Dhahran and al-Khobar and Thuqbah, there was nothing but sand. But now it is all built up. It feels good.”
The Reunion Dinner provided time for returning Aramcons to mingle, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and to get a long-awaited taste of Saudi food and music. Then, after some introductory remarks by Saleh Al-Ghamdi and Ali Al Baluchi, the reunion organizers, Al-Falih thanked the returning Aramcons for the legacy of their hard work and the long-term vision that continues to drive the company into the future. “The fields some of you helped to discover, delineate and develop are still the bedrock of our reserves and production portfolios,” Al-Falih said. “The Aramcons of today believe that the only way to do justice to that legacy of yours — the work of the generations who have come before – is to build on that foundation and take the company to the next level, transforming Saudi Aramco to make the most of the opportunities of today and tomorrow.” Al-Falih then reminded the guests that they should continue to consider Saudi Aramco as their home. “Many times I am greeting new guests, and for some it is their first time in the Kingdom. To them, of course, I say, ‘Welcome,’” said Al-Falih. “Many of them come repeatedly, because they are our partners or our customers, and I tell them, ‘Welcome back.’ But for this very special group, I say from my heart, ‘Welcome back home.’ This is home. And you are among family.”