CORRY, Rowland: Experiences in Saudi Arabia

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 1990 issue of Pioneer Magazine

by Rowland Corry,

The high point in my work career came about due to my friendship with Dick Holmes, who was loyal, enthusiastic, and generous. In 1948, I worked for about three months with the Department of the Army as a Position Classifier at the Presidio in San Francisco. Dick was Chief of Classification for the Sixth Army and he arranged my selection by that installation. Three months after I joined the Department of the Army (as a civilian), Dick Holmes left the Sixth Army and joined the Arabian American Oil Co., which was then headquartered in San Francisco. After a few months with the Department of the Army, Dick asked me if I would be interested in working with . I was, and following a family council, I joined Aramco.

Dick Holmes left the domestic organization of Aramco and transferred to its Saudi Arabian operation. He then asked me if I would like to have a six month assignment working with Bela Barnes, who was the top man in Aramco’s Organization and Planning and Wage and Salary Activity. I did and went on a six month assignment to . I wrote some one hundred job descriptions covering all phases of Aramco’s operations. Bela Barnes, Dan Weggeland and I then made a major survey of all of Aramco’s operations. This survey included all of Aramco’s parent companies and some of their subsidiaries on the East, West and Gulf Coasts of the United States. I worked long hours with Bela Barnes. The net result of this study was a “Professional” salary structure for American and other senior staff employees in Aramco, which was then and is now the largest oil producing company in the world. (This was a choice assignment to be given to a Job Analyst in the New York office.)

While living in New York, which was our second job assignment with Aramco, we became very active in the Westchester Branch of the Church which met in the Odd Fellows Hall in Mount Vernon, New York. It was at this time that we became better acquainted with Veigh and Janet Nielson. Veigh had received his M.B.A. Degree from Harvard and he had also joined Aramco as a Job Analyst. This was a choice young couple and we became very close friends.

We were surrounded by friends in the Westchester Branch. Some of the members there had been classmates of ours at Weber Junior College, including Elma Skelton Stoddard and Jean Danvers Griffith. I was called to be a Counselor in the Branch Presidency and Clare, my wife, was called to be the President of the Primary Association. We had an enjoyable and spiritual experience in New York and still remain close and very fond of our friends there. Mel and Molly Lemmon were close friends there and we cherish their friendship. We also cherish our friendship with George and Elma Stoddard, Mel and Ada Miller, Roland Monson and his family, Mary Bennion, The Hagjund family, Stan McAllister, Camila Wanlass, Don and Rosa Huber, John and Jean Griffith, Preston and Betty Nibley, Ike and June Stewart, George and Erna So Her, and Homer and Phoebe Stringman.

Three years after our arrival in New York, I was asked to accept an assignment as a Senior Job Analyst with Aramco in Saudi Arabia. We had a family council and decided to make the move.

The next 12 years in Saudi Arabia (to October 1963) were interesting and challenging, I was in the Management Development Program. I acted for six months as Superintendent of Personnel in the Ras Tanura District, participated in an intensive training program in communications, and many phases of administration, specializing in personnel administration.

About two years after my assignment in Saudi Arabia, I was promoted to Superintendent (Wages and Salary) in the Ras Tanura District, which position I held for most of the time we were in Saudi Arabia. The Ras Tanura Refinery was in a constant state of expansion, with numerous organizational and position changes. It was a busy time, writing and rewriting job descriptions, assigning them the correct grade level, and motivating management to accept our recommendations.

Our son Larry was with us for two years in Saudi Arabia, i.e. in the 8th and 9th grades. School classes were small, teachers were competent, and Larry was an excellent student and made the most of this opportunity. Karen, our daughter, was in Saudi Arabia with us for one summer. Larry, Karen, and other sons and daughters of Armcons traveled to Saudi Arabia across the Atlantic. At the conclusion of the summer, Karen, Larry, Clare and I returned to the United States via the Pacific route with stops in Japan, Hong Kong, Hawaii, etc. That was an interesting and enjoyable summer with all of our family together.

Karen had just graduated from high school and was at an impressionable age. She described many things as “fantastic” enroute from Saudi Arabia. Larry and Karen had an adventuresome experience that summer, both in their travels and while in Saudi Arabia. Both of them were given summer jobs by Aramco and they enjoyed their work as well as their social and religious life in our Aramco community.

During our first several years in Saudi Arabia, our L.D.S. services were held in the home of the Richard Holmes family. Several months following my being set apart as “Presiding Elder of Saudi Arabia and Vicinity” by President David O. McKay, church services were held in our home. L.D.S. services were also held in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and part of the time in Ab-qaiq, Saudi Arabia. The Richard Holmes family, the Craig Wayman family, the Merrill Van Wagoner family, the Melvin Stanford family, and Air Force personnel from the U.S. Airbase in Dhahran comprised our regular congregation in Saudi Arabia. Dorothy and Bill Pearson from Dhahran also participated with us. Clare taught the children in Sunday School for almost our complete stay in Saudi Arabia. These children remain very close to us as do their wonderful parents.

Since the Arabian American Oil Company Senior Staff School ended at the 9th grade, schooling for Larry had to be provided elsewhere, such as in Egypt, Lebanon, Europe, or the United States. Therefore, the Corry’s had a decision to make. We thought and prayed about it and concluded that the best place for Larry was back in Utah so he could maintain a background in the Church. This choice was a good decision and arrangements were made for him to live with Clare’s brother and wife and family while attending school, and for him to return to Saudi Arabia each summer to be with Clare and I. Larry lived with Mark and Lucy Orton and their children in North Ogden through the winter months of his high school years and Clare returned to Ogden for the major portion of his two years at Weber Junior College. We were pleased that Larry lived with Mark, Lucy and their family. There he enjoyed the blessings of a good L.D.S. home.

Larry was called to the French Mission while Clare and I were in Saudi Arabia. We were able to visit with him twice while he was on his mission, including when he was released after fulfilling a fine mission. Larry had saved enough money to take Clare and I on about a four day tour, visiting some of his converts and other friends in France, Belgium, etc. As I recall, Larry paid all of the bills, including the expenses for meals. The meals were adequate; the tour was wonderful. We met some of his companions and came to know at first hand the power and spirituality these young missionaries had. I sensed a spiritual strength in these young men which I did not possess although I had been living the gospel. Therefore, I know that missionaries receive special gifts and powers to accomplish the Lord’s work.

I should not leave untold the experiences of our family in Saudi Arabia. We found the Saudi Arabi people to be intelligent, courteous, friendly, and fun loving. Although most of them had had limited opportunity for formal schooling, they were eager and capable of learning quickly. Clare was about the size of many of the Saudi Arabs, i.e. 5 feet tall. This, plus her natural courtesy made her a favorite of the Saudi Arab people. Our house maintenance crews, particularly the interior house painters were all Saudi Arabs. Due to Clare’s tact and organization, she could direct painting crews and accomplish a complete interior painting job in two days.

The supervisor of the mail center in our community was a young Saudi Arab named Ali. When I tried to get his phone number for business purposes, I was told by Ali that his number was in effect, an unpublished number. However, Clare was given the number voluntarily by Ali and when we received letters from Larry from France; Ali would put through a personal call to Clare to tell her about it. During our last few years in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, the company had built a fine swimming pool about one- eighth of a block from our home. The Indian life guard would telephone Clare when the temperature of the pool was 78 degrees and tell her that the temperature was right for her to enjoy a swim. I mention these experiences to indicate the natural graciousness of Saudi Arabs, Indians, and other Eastern people, and the help which Clare provided. Her graciousness has been a great help to me in my work, church assignments, and enjoying life.

In my work associations with Saudi Arabs and other Eastern people, I was perhaps more firm than some of my American associates. The most simple task had to be performed correctly. On my last week of work with the company, I reprimanded one of our best Palestinian personnel councilors for being ten minutes late for work. While in Arabia, I frankly admitted to Saudi Arab and other Arab employees with whom I worked that I did not understand their culture and would require their help in arriving at a decision regarding their people. Initially, they were reluctant to point out to me wherein I needed to clarify my thinking. But, the last year or more, Arab Personnel Councilors would tell me quite frankly when the reasons I had subscribed to their own people’s reactions to a given situation was not valid. This was particularly helpful in determining disciplinary action for Arab personnel for their infractions against company policy or procedure. Knowing that Americans had to maintain our position as supervisors, I took a chance in this method, but I became convinced then and remain convinced that admission of ignorance can be an asset in human relations.

During our years in Saudi Arabia, the Arabian American Oil Co. intensified its efforts to bring Arab and particularly Saudi Arab employees into supervisory and management positions. This required, for example, determining which of them could benefit most from engineering training in American, European, or the selected universities. As I recall some of those selected and their devotion to learning, I thrill anew at the wonderful experience it was for them.

There is a tendency, I believe, for the Saudi Arab Government to give the students they sponsor more money to live on and maintain their “status” in America than the young men can handle and maintain their scholastic standing. This is not restricted to Saudi Arabs, but in their case, I am particularly concerned because I know of the dependence their country will have upon them acquiring a good solid background in engineering, medicine, and other professions, business administration, technical craft training, etc. They should take over as much of the leadership and responsibility of the oil industry, their country and villages as their learning has equipped them. If they do not receive the knowledge and skills they should, it will be a great detriment to their country.

Clare, Larry, Karen and I also made many other wonderful American and European friends in Saudi Arabia. We worked with them and socialized with them. It was a small delightful community. We feel a closeness to these friends that is akin to that of brothers and sisters. We were never treated with more kindness and consideration by anyone, anywhere, than we were and are by them, and we cherish many friendships.

Some interesting information about Saudi Arabia follows. We were in Arabia from 1952 to late in 1963. During this period, the methods of paying our Arabian employees changed drastically. At first, Saudi Ryals, worth 25 cents each, were shipped from Headquarters to 3 districts, a total of 150 miles. These silver coins were packed in boxes about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide and shipped across the Arabian Desert on flat bed trucks, accompanied by Armed Policemen. Saudi Arab employees lined up and received their pay in silver Ryals.

During the ensuing 8 to 10 years, employees were paid in paper currency and ultimately by check. This was a long step forward. Of course, other money transactions in the Kingdom changed accordingly.

Punishing Arabs was certain and swift. For example, an individual who was found guilty of stealing would have his hand cut off. Other more serious offenses might result in more drastic punishment. The day my family arrived from the States there was a hand cutting at the main gate and the amputated hand was hung at the main gate entrance for all to see. Although these things happened, we do not know all the facts regarding these matters. Our own judicial system may also require revision.

One of the more pleasant things we really enjoyed was the progress we made in bringing inactive members into full activity in the church. In recent years, I received a letter from a friend telling me that I was responsible for his conversion. Our members were small, but the love we had for each other produced good sound results. We had 50 members in the church in those early days. Now there are 500 + members spread throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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