Fort Worth's 'Memory Guy' makes unforgettable impression

Ron White has been known to misplace his keys from time to time. He also occasionally forgets about monthly bills that aren't set up for AutoPay.

But when White sets his mind to remembering, there is no one better.

"If I use a memory system, I'll put my memory up against Rain Man," the Fort Worth resident says. "I'll compete with anybody in the world."

White is the nation's reigning memory king, with back-to-back titles at the USA Memory Championship. He holds national memory records. His recall skills are so remarkable, in fact, that the History channel has declared him to be "superhuman."

He is profiled on Stan Lee's Superhumans, a show that scours the globe looking for ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. It airs at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Unlike many of Stan Lee's famous Marvel Comics superheroes, the origin story behind White and his amazing memory does not involve anything as exotic as being bombarded with gamma rays, getting injected with a "super-soldier" serum or emerging as an evolutionary mutant.

White, 37, merely attended a memory seminar at age 18, discovered a knack for remembering massive amounts of information and then honed his skills with lots of practice, practice, practice.

"My memory is actually no better than anyone else's," he says. "We all have this ability. But most people, over 90 percent of the people, aren't tapping into it, because they don't know how."

White is so tapped in that he has turned memory into a full-time job.

He speaks at conferences and seminars all over the county -- last week: Dallas, San Diego and Washington, D.C.; this week: Seattle and San Francisco -- and he teaches others to implement his memory techniques for greater success in their professional and private lives.

"When people see me memorize a 100-digit number or remember 200 names in an hour, they're amazed, and I'm glad that they are, because that gives me a way to make a living," he says. "But for me, it's not really about being a performer; it's about teaching memory strategies that can benefit everyone."

His national records include being the fastest to memorize a deck of cards (he was timed at 87 seconds) and memorizing the most numbers in five minutes (167 digits).

White's parents and childhood friends still marvel, he says, that he has been able to do this with his life. As a kid growing up in North Richland Hills, he showed no signs that he could one day become known nationally as "The Memory Guy."

"I basically got kicked out of college because of bad grades," he says. "I went to the University of North Texas and dropped out with a 0.9 GPA. So when I told my parents at 19 that I was going to be a memory guy and that I was going to make a career of it, they were like, 'Oh, my God, no. Don't do that.'

"Now, of course, they say: 'We knew you could it. We were with you the whole time!'"

As if there's a chance of his forgetting how it really happened.

On the History channel show, host Daniel Browning Smith (who is also a so-called Superhuman, a contortionist known as "The Most Flexible Man Alive") subjected White to three memory challenges.

He passed them all.

For the final challenge, Smith and White walked the aisles of an Austin-area Home Depot with a shopping cart. When they pulled items off the shelves, White would commit the prices to memory.

"We put about 50 items in the buggy," White says. "Then we went to the checkout stand, took the items out and scanned them, and I'd say the price and we'd see if my memory matched the Home Depot computer. And it did."

Actually, the story is more complicated than that. The store manager informed White that he was wrong on three prices.

"I told him: 'No, I'm not wrong. The computer is wrong.' But he didn't believe me. Nobody believed me. So I demanded a price check on all three items," he says. "And all three times, I was right.

"So my memory is better than the Home Depot computer system!"

Superhuman, indeed.