After a five-month battle with leukemia, H. Ross Perot, a two-time candidate for president, self-made billionaire, and American patriot, has died at the age of 89. He was the pioneer of the computer services industry, founding Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) in 1962 and, 26 years later, Perot Systems Corp.
And the man served, in order, God, country, and family. A slight figure at 5-foot-6, he cast a larger-than-life shadow in every aspect of a life well lived.
When he entered the presidential race of 1992 – without any political party affiliation – he ignited a frustrated electorate, who grabbed on to the dark-suited, American flag-lapel pin-wearing Texan, and solidified himself a place in the history books. The clash of titans, featuring the Republican incumbent President George H. W. Bush and the Democratic governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, was a fertile environment for an outsider.
Perot savagely opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an issue both Clinton and Bush lauded as progress. Perot’s polar-opposite prognosis cemented one of the most iconic lines in modern-day politics:
“You can move your factory south of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, … have no health care … have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.”
He was an eccentric combination of the down-home handyman who called himself “Mr. Fix It” and an advanced economics professor, explaining the woes of a recessive economy with a vertiginous collection of charts, tables, and grids and buying chunks of infomercial airtime to get his point across to the masses. He also promised to be the guy who would “take out the trash and clean out the barn.”
And then speaking as a businessman and taking a swipe at Bush, Perot said on the debate stage, “The chief financial officers of a publicly traded corporation would be sent to prison if it kept books like our government.”
Perot’s folksy brilliance garnered 19.7 million votes, skewing the curve of both major-party candidates and contributing to the upset victory of Clinton over the incumbent.
The message of his run was United We Stand America. Sound familiar? He was President Donald Trump before the silent majority realized they needed a Trump. Perot was a man ahead of his time.
Steadfast, Loyal, and True
A hard worker, at age eight, he began throwing the Texarkana Gazette and became an Eagle Scout in weeks – a feat that usually requires a four- to five-year investment. He did well in school, attended Texarkana College, and in 1949 entered the U.S. Naval Academy. He launched his billion-dollar empire with $1,000 he borrowed from his wife, Margot, in 1962 on his 32nd birthday. That’s why Forbes ranked Perot’s self-made quotient as a complete 10 – no hand-me-down wealth helped him acquire his fortune.
He used his money wisely: investing in his community, contributing heavily to charitable causes, taking care of his family, and paying generous salaries and benefits to hundreds of loyal employees. It was the actions of seven regular EDS employees that earned him the Winston Churchill Award for living up to the spirit of Britain’s most famous statesman and politician. Cited by Prince Charles, who presented the medal in Dallas, Perot was honored for his dedicated efforts to locate, provide humanitarian relief, and eventually free American POWs in Vietnam in the 1960s and for rescuing two of his employees from an Iranian prison in 1979.
During the height of the revolution for power in Iran in 1979, two of Perot’s employees were caught in the chaos and imprisoned. The American government could not or would not help free his people, so Perot decided to take matters into his own hands. He formed a commando rescue team of seven EDS employees – all who volunteered to risk everything for the safety of their co-workers. They were trained by a retired Green Beret and sent to Tehran’s Qasr Prison with Perot along to oversee the mission. It was a success and became the basis for author Ken Follett’s best-selling account, On Wings of Eagles.
An American That Will Be Greatly Missed
Perot lived a charmed life: one blessed with love of family and guided by pride of country, a strong belief in God, and a keen ability to succeed in the face of somewhat insurmountable odds. He leaves behind his wife of more than 60 years, five children, 16 grandchildren, and a cadre of Americans who recognized a true patriot who loved his country.
In 2016, Perot was asked how he wanted to be remembered in life. His response: “Aw, I don’t worry about that.” It would be his last interview, and he joked, “Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, I’ll be Texas dead. Ha!”
Godspeed on wings of eagles, Ross Perot. Godspeed.