Harold Simmons, a Dallas businessman and billionaire, philanthropist and Republican mega-donor, died Saturday at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. He was 82.
His death was first reported by The Dallas Morning News. Simmons’ wife, Annette, told the paper he had been “very sick for the last two weeks” and said the family had celebrated Christmas at the hospital.
“Harold Simmons was a true Texas giant, rising from humble beginnings and seizing the limitless opportunity for success we so deeply cherish in our great state,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a prepared statement. “His legacy of hard work and giving, particularly to his beloved University of Texas, will live on for generations.”
Mr. Simmons was a major donor to Republican candidates and causes.
But Mr. Simmons, who ranked No. 40 on Forbes' 2013 ranking of the 400 richest Americans, was also known for his philanthropic effort, providing crucial funding to a myriad of non-profit agencies in North Texas.
Mr. Simmons his wife and the Harold C. Simmons Foundation especially gave generously to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He and his wife donated $50 million in both 2008 and 2005. The foundation gave $15.4 million in 2004. Proceeding those gifts was a $41 million donation made by Simmons in 1988.
The foundation also has been a major donor to The Texas Tribune, contributing $50,000 over the last four years.
His support of conservative causes and candidates is decades deep, though he sprinkled in donations to Democrats from time to time.
The Center for Public Integrity ranked him as the second-biggest overall political donor during the 2011-12 election cycle, giving $31 million by that organization’s count. That total included $23.5 million to American Crossroads, a PAC started by Republican consultant Karl Rove and others.
Since 2000, he contributed at least $5.9 million to state candidates, according to reports filed at the Texas Ethics Commission. That doesn’t include contributions for most of the second half of this year; candidates will report those next month. He bet big on Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, giving $150,000 in July. And he contributed $50,000 to Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who is running for lieutenant governor.
Mr. Simmons was born in May 1931 in the tiny northeast Texas town of Golden, a small town in northeast Texas. His parents were school teachers, according to the Harold C. Simmons Foundation website.
When he was 16, his family moved to a small town near Austin. While at UT he was a member of the Southwest Conference Championship Basketball team of 1951 and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics. At UT he earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, his biography states.
He worked as an assistant bank examiner for the the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but eventually decided to go into business for himself. At age 29, Mr. Simmons bought a small pharmacy near Southern Methodist University.
In 1966, he made his first major acquisition, buying Williams Drug Co. Thirty more drug stores were purchased the next year followed by an $18 million buyout of Ward’s Drugstores in 1969. In 1973, Mr. Simmons sold his stores for $50 million in Eckerd stock, his biography said.
That launched his career as a highly successful and often controversial investor.
One of his companies, Waste Control Specialists, has been a frequent subject of legislative and state agency debates; it operates a low-level radioactive waste facility in Andrews, a West Texas town near the New Mexico border.
“Harold Simmons lived the American Dream. His path began with the purchase of a small drug store, and through hard work and the free enterprise system, he was able to turn that investment into one of the greatest American success stories of all time,” Abbott said. “The Simmons family shared his success with the state he dearly loved, giving generously to make advancements in healthcare and to improve higher education.”
Former President George W. Bush sent the Simmons family condolences and said that “Dallas has lost a generous benefactor to many worthy causes. And we, like many others, have lost a friend in Harold.”