One of the best beats I had as a reporter included covering the theme park business.
It was intriguing to follow how a little company that began as Tierco Corp. evolved into Premier Parks Inc., which later became publicly traded, which gobbled up the giant Six Flags Entertainment Corp. Industry analysts saw the latter as a gutsy, surprising and exciting move. It made work fun.
Our coverage of Tierco increased after Gary Story was brought in to rehab Frontier City, then a deteriorating 40-acre park near Interstate 35 and Hefner Road. Frontier City — and Premier Parks — thrived and grew financially during the years that Story led operations.
By the late 1990s, Premier Parks was in full acquisition mode, posting record earnings and gains in revenue as well as growth in attendance for properties that included parks in Belgium, The Netherlands and France.
In 1998, the company made the top 10 list of the state's best performing companies in rankings by Standard & Poors for The Oklahoman and acquired Six Flags.
Story often recalled how he first came to Oklahoma City in 1984 after working in Australia and sat in the dismal park on a cold fall day wondering what he'd gotten into. He never intended to stay, but fell in love with the park. Years later he described Frontier City as a first girlfriend — you just can't forget her.
He never regretted coming here, and it's probably fair to say Frontier City may not have survived past the 1980s without Story's passion for the industry and a genuine love for the Oklahoma City property.
It was because of Story that financier Kieran Burke became a partner in Premier Parks, pooling their talents to build a formidable company. The two shared a vision for what Frontier City — and Premier Parks — could become.
Story wasn't exactly a fan of the media, but we were fortunate that he granted The Oklahoman access to interviews that, among other things, allowed us to get a good idea of his vision for the park and his passion for the industry. He was a chief executive who when he spoke investors and customers — or guests, as they're called in that business — could understand what he was saying.
Story's death in September after years battling Type 1 diabetes made me reflect on just how significant that 40-acre spot along I-35 became in the 1990s and the years following.
As president and chief operating officer for Six Flags, he remained in Oklahoma City — so the city shared headquarters billing with New York.
It meant investment bankers, ride manufacturers, amusement vendors and national media were constantly traveling to Oklahoma City for meetings and presentations. Maintaining a headquarters in Oklahoma City exposed the community to business leaders from around the world.
Story left Six Flags in 2005 and the company closed its Oklahoma City office the following year. There'll be no more live quotes or chasing down his response to something that happened in the industry, but Story's imprint remains in Oklahoma City with the team that now manages Frontier City and White Water Bay.
We bid him a fond farewell. At 58, he truly was one of those people gone too soon.