For Mike and Patsy Birchfield, life has read like the spin of a globe.
By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen :: Photography by Mark Humphries
The adventure began for the two Texans by way of Texas A&M. “We met during a summer internship with Dresser Industries. Mike and I had a few dates that summer but really started dating once we both headed back to A&M,” says Patsy.
The two married, and after receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering, Mike joined Chevron as a production engineer in New Orleans. Louisiana would be home many times throughout his career, including residences in Lafayette and Covington. “We have a great fondness for all things Creole and Cajun, as you can imagine, and hold Louisiana close in our hearts,” says Patsy. Not only did Mike’s career expand with numerous engineering, operations and leadership positions, but also moves to San Francisco and Houston. In between life in the states were decades in far flung places around the globe with three assignments in Sumatra, Indonesia, as well as in Caracas and Maracaibo, Venezuela, and Lagos, Nigeria.
The international years began when oldest daughter Meghan was just nine months old. During their first assignment in Indonesia, Ashley joined the adventure. “Both of our daughters were, for the most part, raised internationally and spent most of their educational years as expat children living in Venezuela as well as in jungle camps in Sumatra. Once they finished the 8th grade, they went off to boarding high school in Switzerland because the communities we lived in did not have high schools. It wasn’t until university that they returned to the United States full time,” explains Patsy.
Travel for business and recreation had the family exploring corners around the world. “Between Mike, myself, Meghan and Ashley, we have traveled and lived on six different continents. For a while during the high school and college years, we were all living on a different continent from one another.”
Over the years and many locations, Patsy’s passion for event planning, cooking and entertaining was applied to creating and hosting extensive home and corporate events. “It’s an unwritten expectation as an expat and executive spouse to contribute to the company community, local and company-sponsored charities and entertaining when executives visit. However, since we love to entertain, we always had personal events mixed in with all of the company obligations. We like to mix it up when we entertain and introduce people to new cultures through food, flavors and often traditional dress. On our last assignment in Indonesia, while Mike was Executive Director of Sumatra operations, we hosted the Chevron Board of Directors for their annual meeting. We planned everything from remodeling and designing the guest houses and event buildings to planning all of the itineraries, meals, menus, training the catering chefs and hosting dinners at our home. It was a nine-month process getting prepared for a three-day visit to the jungles of Sumatra.”
In addition to events, Patsy supported local communities. “One of my favorite projects to direct was a complete renovation of an abandoned building in our camp, which we turned into a Women’s Arts and Education Center for the Indonesian spouses in our community. Now they meet to practice choir, hold quilting, dance, cooking, painting and art classes, and host meetings, local bazaars, luncheons and educational workshops for teaching skills to the surrounding village women. That project took two years to complete and I was fortunate to see it come to fruition before we repatriated.” Patsy also enjoys garden and landscape design and has a passion for travel photography. Besides fly fishing, she and Mike love cycling and hope to tackle the hills of Cordillera Ranch.
Texas was never out of mind for Mike who is from Dallas and Patsy who grew up in Houston. The two had long maintained a summer home on Lake Conroe. Patsy explains, “We wanted to have a place our daughters could call home even if we were living abroad.” Both Mike and Patsy have family in Houston and Dallas, and three brothers with homes around the Hill Country. But it was a recommendation that laid the path for the couple’s future. “During one of our assignments in Nigeria, I asked a colleague if he had the chance to live anywhere in the Hill Country, where would it be? Without hesitation he said Cordillera Ranch! He and his wife had maintained homes in the area and he seemed to know what he was talking about,” says Mike. The following summer, they did exploratory visits to the Hill Country and Austin. “We both agreed that Cordillera Ranch was the place to be. Of course, the golf course was a big draw, especially for Mike, but we liked all aspects of Cordillera Ranch. The many activities and the friendly people set Cordillera Ranch apart from the other places we considered. It seemed like the perfect place to spend the next phase of our lives. Both daughters and their husbands and our grandchildren live in Houston, so after many years of living quite far apart, the short drive to Houston is no problem. In addition, many of our work friends have retired in the San Antonio/Austin area so Cordillera Ranch is perfectly located,” says Patsy. “We bought our lot in 2007 but didn’t seriously begin the planning and building process until we repatriated back to Houston in 2015. I like to joke that I’m still trying to get my cost per golf round down after paying dues for 10 years before living here,” says Mike.
After 37 years, 20 spent on international assignments with his family, Mike retired from Chevron as Vice President of Corporate Organizational Capability in early 2017. “It wasn’t until just before retirement that we finally returned to Texas full time after 30 years away,” says Patsy. They built a home with Damon Christofilis and designed by Gustavo Arredondo and were thrilled with the process. “Damon was extremely patient and when we finally approached him about building 10 years later, he was excited (relieved) about getting us on board. We can’t praise Damon and the incredible team he has assembled enough. They made the 18-month task of building our first home easy and fun and guided us every step of the way.”
Though they’ve only lived there six months, Cordillera Ranch has been a good life fit. “We were drawn by the peacefulness and beauty and enjoy feeling like we live in the country yet are not far from the city. We also love the opportunities that the Cordillera community provides for meeting new people and exploring and developing new hobbies and interests,” says Patsy. Mike and Patsy are known for their mastery of cooking Paella (Mike is really the master here) so Patsy thoroughly enjoyed the recent WOW (Women of Wine) Spanish Tapas event. The couple have already hosted the Cordillera Ranch wine tasting club, have an India-themed charity dinner scheduled for November and will hope to squeeze in an Indonesian night for other residents that have lived in Indonesia. Patsy adds, “I’ve kept an entertaining journal since 1987 of most of my dinners and parties and am looking forward to adding lots of entries from Cordillera Ranch.”
This past fall they left the cooking to The Club, even with Mike’s love of grilling and smoking. “They did a fantastic job on a wedding kick-off barbecue at the Cabana for 65 people in November when our daughter got married in San Antonio. The food and service were amazing and all we had to do was show up and enjoy a special evening, minus the stress. The guests all raved about the food and venue,” says Mike.
Adventure travel still calls. “We love to travel and still have quite a large bucket list. Seems the more places we check off of our travel list, the more we add. We always like to try new places but now that we have young grandchildren we might be back to easy beach family vacations or ski vacations, but another African safari is never far from our minds,” says Patsy. “Because we both love fly fishing, we’re looking forward to fishing on the Guadalupe River,” adds Mike.
Mike and Patsy conclude, “We’ve met some great people in the short time we’ve lived in Cordillera. After attending a Christmas party in 2016, we were introduced to many wonderful people a year before our house was finished, which made it an easy transition once we arrived here. We love that most of the residents of Cordillera also moved here from somewhere else so there is an abundant desire and willingness to foster new friendships. We feel like we’ve come home in a way because most of our international life took place in company camps, where our communities were very close. We shared our lives and created lifelong friendships and we can see that living in Cordillera Ranch will do the same.”