Harold Runnels was born May 17, 1924 to Elbert Dewey Runnels (1898-1969) and Stella McCutcheon Runnels (1898-1964) in Dallas, Texas. Dewey, his father, had grown up in a farming family living in nearby Kaufman, Texas. By the 1920 Census, Dewey and Stella had married, Dewey was working for a tractor company and they were living close to downtown Dallas. By 1930, both Harold and his older brother Elbert had been born, completing their small family.
Harold was a graduate of Dallas Woodrow Wilson High School and attended Cameron State Agricultural College in Lawton, Oklahoma. Prior to World War II, he worked in some capacity for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D. C. When the United States entered the war, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After the war, he worked for about six years in Magnolia, Arkansas for Magnolia Amusement Company before moving to Lea County, New Mexico in 1951.
Around 1943, he was married to Dorothy Frances Gilland. The first of their four children was born in 1945. In Lovington, Harold became a partner in Southland Supply Company before forming Runnels Mud Company, which supplied drilling mud to companies drilling oil wells, and the RunCo Acidizing and Fracturing Co., another oilfield service company, both of which he owned and operated until shortly before he died.
His first venture into politics was having been elected as a Democrat to the New Mexico state Senate in 1960. For the next twenty years, he served his home area either as a state senator or United States Representative. Runnels was first elected to the U. S. House from New Mexico’s newly created Second District in 1970 after serving 10 years in the state Senate, defeating Republican Ed Foreman for the House seat. He first served in the Ninety-second Congress and to the four succeeding Congresses and served from January 3, 1971 until his death at the age of 56 from cancer on August 5, 1980.
While in Congress, Runnels had served on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and was chairman of the Insular Affairs Committee oversight and investigation subcommittee. Because of his background he was considered to be highly knowledgeable in issues dealing with national energy.
Runnels’ funeral was held in Lovington High School’s Pannell Auditorium with 2,000 people in attendance. Quotes from that day were carried in the August 9, 1980 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican, as follows:
District Judge C. Fincher Neal of Hobbs called him “a humble man with humble beginnings.” and added, “In the halls of congress, he was one of the most informed men on the oil and gas industry.” United States Representative Sam Hall of Texas said, “I don’t know of any person who had the love, respect and admiration of the Congress as did Harold Runnels.”
Reverend Ed Scarborough of Wolfforth, Texas, a former pastor, referred to Runnels as “one of the great men that God has shared with us to lead us in a time of great need.” Following the service, Runnels was interred at Resthaven Memorial Gardens at the edge of town. There, a Navy Ceremonial Guard gave a 21-gun salute and played Taps.
Runnels was survived by his wife and children and was succeeded as United States Representative by Joe Skeen. His papers relating to his service in Congress were donated to Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico.