November 30, 2022
Like many, Billy Whitworth saw his career path take shape while he was in college. But it wasn’t a class or a professor that most influenced Whitworth; it was a job with Texas A&M Forest Service.
Whitworth joined Texas A&M Forest Service as a seasonal employee in 2001 while a student at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. He credits what he learned and the relationships he formed in that first role with the agency with leading him to become a staff forester in 2005 and eventually district forester.
Today, Whitworth is Assistant Chief Regional Fire Coordinator for Texas A&M Forest Service. This month, he was named one of 11 winners of the Regents Fellow Service Award. The award recognizes Texas A&M University System employees who have made extraordinary contributions to their agencies and the people of Texas.
Whitworth has provided leadership for the agency’s response to hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, wildfire and other regional and statewide incidents, while also supporting fire department capacity-building programs and natural resource management efforts.
Whitworth helps coordinate the state’s wildfire response needs, organizes interagency firefighters and responds to state and national wildfires. He is qualified to serve as an incident commander, situation unit leader, task force leader and division supervisor.
It was the seasonal job he had in college that got it all started.
“It really occurred when I started meeting people and learning more about what all the different jobs within the Forest Service entailed,” he said. “That really just lured me in.”
The historic 2010-2011 fire season opened the door to a bigger role in emergency management for him. Whitworth served as an incident commander on five large wildfires that year, organizing state and out-of-state resources, volunteer fire departments and other local authorities.
“That was pretty much 18 months of nothing but fighting fires,” he said. “It was hard work and long hours, but really rewarding to protect lives and property.”
Al Davis, Texas A&M Forest Service Interim Director, said in a nomination letter for the award that Whitworth’s impressive command of any situation “has earned him my unquestionable respect and admiration.”
“Some of the most notable Texas A&M Forest Service incidents, partnerships and capacity building efforts have occurred under Whitworth’s watch,” Davis wrote. “He has been an undeniable leader in each, exhibiting expert decision-making and people skills.”
Davis said Whitworth serves as a mentor and pushes others to grow in their profession and reach their full potential.
“His character and dedication are the reason why he is recognized nationally as a dependable, respected and beloved leader in the emergency response arena,” Davis wrote.
Whitworth plays a key role in Texas A&M Forest Service’s efforts to bolster the state’s volunteer fire departments. Since 2013, Whitworth and his staff have delivered more than $69 million in funding to help volunteer fire departments through various programs, including organizing the largest auction of surplus equipment in agency history, which raised more than $1 million.
Whitworth also spearheaded a movement to improve efficiencies and accountability through a tracking application for commodity distribution during large-scale disasters. The application, developed in partnership with the Texas Department of Emergency Management, tracks the distribution process at resource staging areas and points of distribution sites.
Joshua Bardwell, West Mountain Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief, said in a letter supporting Whitworth’s nomination for the award that Whitworth “is a humble leader who puts his people first.”
Whitworth “epitomizes service above self to his coworkers, department, agency, the system, state and nationally with his commitment to providing exceptional leadership in natural resource management, emergency response and personnel development,” Bardwell wrote.
Bardwell said Whitworth took a lead role in not only coordinating the 2020 response to Hurricane Laura in Southeast Texas, but in setting the tone for responders.
Whitworth serves on various statewide committees, is a certified forester with the Society of American Foresters, a Texas Accredited Forester with the Texas Forestry Association and a former Certified Arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. He earned a bachelor’s degree in forest management from Stephen F. Austin University in 2004.
He credits his family, supervisors and supportive coworkers, as well as his faith in God, with helping him excel at his job.
“I’ve been blessed with having a strong support network,” he said. “I’ve always had employees who were dedicated to conserve, protect and lead. I think that’s been a huge blessing.”