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Ross Perot, North Texas philanthropist, businessman, presidential candidate, dies at 89

Ross Perot, Texas billionaire and philanthropist, dies at 89

Ross Perot, who ran for president twice in the 1990s as a third-party candidate, died on July 9, 2019 after a battle with leukemia. He was 89.
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Ross Perot, who ran for president twice in the 1990s as a third-party candidate, died on July 9, 2019 after a battle with leukemia. He was 89.

Texas billionaire and computer systems magnate Henry Ross Perot has died.

He was 89.

Perot died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his devoted family, family spokesman James Fuller said. Perot, a philanthropist, businessman and former presidential candidate, died after suffering from leukemia for five months.

Perot built Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks. Perot later sold the company to General Motors and created Perot Systems in 1988, which was purchased by Dell in 2009 for $3.9 billion.

Perot financed a private commando raid in 1979 to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran and the story was turned into a book and a movie.

Perot established Hillwood Development Company, a real estate development which changed the face and trajectory of the North Texas and northeast Tarrant County landscape.

According to an entry on the Entrepreneur’s Hall of Fame, Perot was born in Texarkana, Texas, to Lula May Perot and Gabriel Ross Perot, a commodity broker specializing in cotton contracts.

As a member of Texarkana’s Boy Scout Troop 18, Ross became an Eagle Scout at the age of 13, his obituary said. He graduated from Texas High School in Texarkana in 1947. From 1947 to 1949, he attended Texarkana Junior College, then entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1949 and helped establish its honor system.

Perot graduated from the Naval Academy in 1953 as a battalion commander, Ross was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy, when the country was in the last stages of the Korean War.

After he left the Navy in 1957, Perot became a salesman for International Business Machines. He left IBM in 1962 to found Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in Dallas, and courted large corporations for his data processing services. Perot was refused 77 times before he was given his first contract.

EDS received lucrative contracts from the U.S. government in the 1960s, computerizing Medicare records. EDS went public in 1968 and the stock price rose from $16 a share to $160 within days. Fortune called Perot the “fastest, richest Texan” in a 1968 cover story. In 1984 General Motors bought controlling interest in EDS for $2.4 billion.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said soon after his death that Perot was a trailblazer who saw the the city’s potential and invested in it heavily.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Ross Perot Sr., a visionary who left his mark on our state and nation,” Price said in a tweet. “Above all, Mr. Perot was a patriot who selflessly served our country in many capacities. Mr. Perot will be missed, but his legacy will continue to positively impact Fort Worth and change lives for the better. We extend our condolences to the entire Perot family as they mourn the loss of an incredible husband, father and grandfather.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also commented on Perot’s passing.

“Ross Perot exemplified what it means to be a Texan and an American. Born into extreme poverty, he rose up to become one our nation’s most successful entrepreneurs and an exemplar of the American dream,” Abbott said in a statement released Tuesday. “More importantly, however, Ross Perot was a devoted husband, family man, and servant of God. His charitable work and his support of the United States Military and its veterans will forever be remembered. I ask that all Texans join Cecilia and me in remembering one of the Lone Star State’s greatest sons and keep him and his family in their prayers.”

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement that, “Ross was a wonderful American citizen who had as much pride in - and love for - this country as any person I have ever known. Whether it be community, philanthropy, family, patriotism or business, he excelled in every aspect of a beautiful American life. He was truly an original, and he will be greatly missed.”

Just prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the government of Iran imprisoned two EDS employees in a contract dispute. Perot organized and sponsored their rescue. The rescue team was led by retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons.

When the team was unable to find a way to extract their two prisoners, they decided to wait for a mob of pro-Ayatollah revolutionaries to storm the jail and free all 10,000 inmates, many of whom were political prisoners. The two prisoners then connected with the rescue team, and the team spirited them out of Iran via a risky border crossing into Turkey.

The exploit was recounted in a book, “On Wings of Eagles,” by Ken Follett, which became a best-seller. In the 1986 miniseries, Perot was portrayed by Richard Crenna.

In 1984 Perot bought a very early copy of the Magna Carta, one of only a few to leave the United Kingdom. It was lent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where it was displayed alongside the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

In 2007, it was sold by the Perot Foundation, in order to provide “for medical research, for improving public education and for assisting wounded soldiers and their families.” The document sold for $21.3 million on December 18, 2007, to David Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group and was kept on display at the National Archives.

As Steve Jobs lost the original power struggle at Apple and left to found NeXT, Perot invested more than $20 million. In 1988 he founded Perot Systems Corporation Inc. in Plano. His son, Ross Perot Jr., eventually succeeded him as CEO. In September 2009, Perot Systems was acquired by Dell for $3.9 billion, the Hall of Fame entry stated.

Perot used his wealth and fame to launch his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton.

Some blamed Perot for Bush’s loss to Clinton as Perot garnered the largest percentage of votes (19 percent) for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 bid.

He ran unsuccessfully for president twice as a third-party candidate, but only got 8 percent of the vote total during his second run in 1996.

After the first Gulf War, Perot funded the research at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School to understand the neurotoxic brain damage many of the soldiers were experiencing after returning home.

The illness was recognized by federal officials as Gulf War Syndrome and led to federally funded treatment of those suffering its debilitating symptoms, his obituary stated.

Perot is survived by his wife, Margot; his sister, Bette Perot; his son, Ross Jr. and his wife Sarah Perot; his daughter Nancy and her husband Rod Jones; his daughter Suzanne and her husband, Patrick McGee; his daughter Carolyn and her husband Karl Rathjen; his daughter Katherine and her husband Eric Reeves.

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
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