Media News

Energy journalist Gibbons dies at 68

May 9, 2024

Posted by Talking Biz News Administrator

By Emily Flitter and Chris Reese

Robert Gibbons
Robert Gibbons

Robert Gibbons, a journalist known for his reports on the energy industry and his adventures in rock ‘n’ roll, which included touring Europe with the band the Velvet Underground, died on April 20. He was 68.

The cause was lung cancer, according to his wife, Lisa Del Greco.

In his trademark attire – a black suit with a white shirt and a skinny black tie that accented his thick black plastic-framed glasses – Gibbons cut a memorable figure in New York newsrooms and in music venues in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn.

He conducted interviews in a booming voice, the same voice he’d later use to recount his sparring matches with oil ministers and other powerful figures, his memories of traveling across the United States to see Rolling Stones shows, or the lessons he’d learned as a bartender in Houston.

He began his journalism career as the editor of Public News, an alternative weekly newspaper in Houston, and later spent two decades at Bridge News and Reuters in Los Angeles and New York covering energy infrastructure and oil markets.

As an energy reporter, he broke news about OPEC, nailed down details of failures in the energy infrastructure system like oil refinery fires or pipeline breakdowns, and landed big scoops like the 2012 collapse of PFGBest, the Iowa-based futures broker whose chief executive, under investigation for embezzling customer funds and facing arrest, tried to commit suicide.

“He wouldn’t get outflacked by a flak” said John Kilduff, an energy market analyst and founding partner of Again Capital in New York.

Kilduff said that, with seconds ticking by after an oil refinery went offline – a market-moving event, whatever its cause – Gibbons would work the phone to find the cause, never resting on the official word from the refinery’s spokespeople about what was happening.

“He’d call the fire department, he’d call the police, he had other ways of finding out,” Kilduff said.

Gibbons was also a musician who played guitar and sang original songs, first in bands in Houston – his band The Banks released a single, “Rambo Rap,” on vinyl in 1985 – and then in solo performances given whenever he had the opportunity in New York.

Among his coworkers, he built a base of fans who loyally turned out to hear him perform songs like “Man Like Other Men,” in which he sang lyrics written by his bandmate Robert Estep:

Who let you in here? The rent isn’t cheap,

You can’t impress me ’cause I’m not very deep

Whatever you want, it isn’t for sale

You rob my dreams and you open my mail

Robert Bruce Gibbons was born on July 6, 1955, in Hampton, Virginia. His parents, Mary Anne Gibbons and Howard I. Gibbons, had met while working at a local newspaper.

As a young boy, he was surrounded by older relatives, some of whom were still in the thrall of what his older brother James described as “the lost cause of the Confederacy.”

 “Robert just never bought into it, even as a young kid,” James Gibbons said. He recalled a visit the boys made with their father to a Civil War battlefield and a nearby gift shop. James was 8,;Robert was 4.

“We were allowed to buy little caps. I chose to buy a gray cap for the Confederacy. Robert chose the blue cap for the Union,” the elder Gibbons said. “We visited our great grandfather, who said: ‘Boy why are you wearing that cap for the Union?’ And Robert said: ‘They won.’”

When Gibbons was 7, his father moved the family to Houston, where he’d gone to work as a spokesman for NASA. He was among the men who served as “voices” for NASA missions, including Apollo. Gibbons described himself as a “NASA brat,” and for the rest of his life mixed into a deep mistrust for authority was a reverence for the government’s space exploration program.

He attended the University of Houston, where he studied English literature and worked as a researcher and grant writer. His job as editor of the Public News began while he was still in college. After graduating, he continued working for the University of Houston while writing about music and art and living in a garage apartment rented to him by a friend of the guitarist Sterling Morrison, a founding member of the Velvet Underground.

Morrison was living in Houston then and working as a tugboat captain. They met and struck up a close friendship. When the Velvet Underground reunited for a European tour in 1993, Morrison stipulated in his contract for the tour that after every show, there had to be, waiting for him in his dressing room, a six pack of the city’s local beer and Robert Gibbons.

Gibbons was Morrison’s faithful companion on the tour, and he also reported on it, sending stories to the Public News from Europe. He later covered one of the band’s reunion events for Reuters.

In 1993, Gibbons left the university and began working as a writer and spokesman for the local electric utility company, Houston Lighting and Power. Three years later, he parlayed his experiences into a job covering power markets for Bridge News in Los Angeles. He moved to New York for Bridge a few years later.

In New York, he met his wife, Lisa Del Greco, who also worked at Bridge. While they were co-workers, Del Greco said, he was polite and helpful. Later they ended up in separate newsrooms – he at Reuters and she at Dow Jones – following the collapse of Bridge’s parent company in 2001. Gibbons asked her for a date in an email in which he quoted Tennessee Williams. For their first date, he took her to a Bob Dylan concert.

“There are no words to fully encompass what he meant to me,” Del Greco said. Together, they attended musical performances and plays, watched old films on Turner Classic Movies, and cataloged the food at greasy spoon diners in New York, Los Angeles and Houston. “All these years I’ve been with Robert they’ve been the best years of my life.”

Among first attractions for Del Greco to Gibbons were his stories and his love of music. He boasted about having attended two Rolling Stones concerts in two different cities within 24 hours. He was hooked at an early age after seeing a Texas show in the Rolling Stones’ legendary 1972 tour. “Sixteen, but I got there and got high. And I knew I was seeing greatness,” he told a friend 50 years later.

When the band’s guitarist Ron Wood published a memoir in 2007, Gibbons snagged an interview with him. A publicist warned that Wood only had half an hour to talk. But, according to Del Greco, Wood and Gibbons hit it off. An hour later, to the publicist’s horror, Wood had invited Gibbons up to his room and was playing CDs for him.

Gibbons’ love of music went far beyond his deep knowledge of the Stones. In one email to a friend, he mused about the psychedelic group Jefferson Airplane.

“Though most associate me with my Stones fandom, Grace Slick and Paul Kantner were really my truer soul mates,” he wrote. “Their music/lyrics/philosophy and that of the San Francisco scene in mid-1960s to early 1970s was very much: “‘Of course the majority won’t figure it out for 40-100 years, if ever, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go ahead and live our lives differently.’”

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