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Shepherd retires from Formosa but hasn't been put out to pasture

By by Dianna Wray
Feb. 1, 2011 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 31, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.

Jim Shepherd on his last day at the Formosa plant Friday.

The futureA longtime photography enthusiast, Shepherd said he intends to take time before finding his next project to travel with his wife and take photographs. Shepherd has been fascinated with Native Americans for years and plans to visit and photograph Little Bighorn in his upcoming travels.

"I really want to walk in their moccasins," Shepherd said.

POINT COMFORT - Jim Shepherd stood outside the gates of Formosa Plastics, gazing at the place he has represented for more than two decades.

His green eyes beamed behind their steel-rimmed spectacles as he took in the sight of the steam-belching plastics plant.

Talking about the plant, his face lights up.

"I love this plant. I really do," he said. "Sometimes, at the end of the day, I'll just come out here and look at it."

After 21 years as communications manager at Formosa Plastics, Shepherd is retiring.

With his white hair and mutton chops topping off a lanky frame, Shepherd looks like he might have wandered out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but he has spent two decades as the face of Formosa Plastics. It's been a labor of love, Shepherd said.

Shepherd started at Formosa in 1990 after spending years working as a marketing executive in Houston.

Shepherd raised three boys as a single father. Once his youngest son was grown and off to college, Shepherd was ready for a change.

He retired from his job as vice president of marketing and came back to Victoria, the town he grew up in.

After a vacation with his future wife, Shepherd settled in and started looking around for something to do.

He wanted to try something new, and the job at Formosa seemed like a perfect fit.

"They were looking for somebody and after looking me over they decided I was the most qualified for the job," Shepherd said, modestly.

After being hired for the job, Shepherd settled in to learn everything there is to know about plastics.

Shepherd knows every nook and cranny of the plant from how many stair steps it takes to get to the top of the tallest storage silo - 298 - to the height of the Olefins furnaces that form the heart of the plant - six stories.

That was the beginning of his career in public relations.

Over the next two decades, Shepherd saw the plant through its largest period of growth since it first opened in 1980.

"When I came to work here, it was just open prairie," Shepherd said proudly, surveying the large area where the plant stands now.

He has loved his time at Formosa, he said, but after putting off retiring for the past year - he had planned to retire last March - he felt it was finally time.

He has been training his successor, Bill Harvey, a longtime resident of the area who retired from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service after 21 years, to step in and fill his place, but Harvey says he knows that is impossible.

"I'm excited about it. He's left a really good foundation to step into, but nobody can really fill his shoes," Harvey said. "He's been such an important part of the community. In many ways, he's been the face of Formosa for the past 20 years. No one can fill his shoes, not directly."

After working so many years, Shepherd said he looks forward to travelling around the country with his wife and embracing his passion for photography.

"There are some good things out there to see. I've never had the opportunity to shoot wildflowers in the mountains in the spring, and now I can do that."

He admits to being a little nervous about embarking on this new stage in his life, and says he'll keep an eye out for new experiences. Still, it will be a change not getting up and going to the place he has gone to every day for the past 21 years.

"If you're leaving on a long voyage, taking a long tour around the world, you're going to be a little nervous when you start the voyage. This has been a journey and next week I'll start a new one," Shepherd said.

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