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Perot, who died at age 89, never forgot his roots in Texarkana

Perot, who died at age 89, never forgot his roots in Texarkana

July 9th, 2019 by Les Minor in Texarkana News

Ross Perot fields questions from the press before a luncheon in his honor Feb. 25, 2013, at Texarkana College. With last Novembers tax district expansion vote passing Perot pledged $5 million to the college over the next five years.

Photo by Evan Lewis /Texarkana Gazette.

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Texarkana native son H. Ross Perot died early this morning. He was in Dallas, surrounded by his family.

The Texas billionaire and third-party presidential candidate, who got his start throwing newspaper for the Texarkana Gazette, was 89.

Though he left Texarkana to make his fortune he never forgot his roots here. He made many trips back here and often visited sites that were important to his childhood, including the Highland Park neighborhood where he grew up.

More than once he has called Texarkana "the center of the universe."

He was a staunch supported of Boy Scouts and the local office bears his name. He came back to Texarkana in 2015 to address the troops at the Jamboree at Spring Lake Park.

In 2002, Perot, his wife Margo and sister Bette, dedicated a new Salvation Army building in Texarkana named in memory of the his father. In addition to opening The Gabriel Ross Perot Center of Hope Transitional Housing Unit, a statue was unveiled in the front of the shelter. It was created from a photograph, taken in the 1930s, of Ross and Bette Perot's brother, Gabriel Jr., who died when he was a child, dancing with The Salvation Army Band.

Perot is credited with doing much to save Texarkana College from ruin when it had financial problems several years ago, promising millions of aid if Bowie County taxpayers would step up and agree to expand the taxing district. They did and he did.

Before that, he was instrumental in getting the engineering program started at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.

He financed the renovations of the Paramount movie house in downtown Texarkana. It was renamed the Perot Theatre after his parents.

The attended Texas High School, Texarkana College and U.S. Naval Academy, joined IBM as a salesman, then struck out on his own, creating a company that helped other companies manage their computer networks: Electronic Data Systems Corp. It made him rich.

Though Perot loved Texarkana and did much to promote it during his lifetime, much of his life played to a national audience on a national stage.

His 1992 run for president is considered the most successful third-party showing since President Theodore Roosevelt's bid in 1912. Perot garnering almost 20% of the vote.

He was seen by many as a feisty little man with his stack of charts that he would use to support his positions during television interviews.

During that period, national and international media swarmed into Texarkana to try to get a sense of who this man—who had no previous political experience—was and how his hometown played into his values.

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Maybe the most prominent of these was Barbara Walters, who stood with Perot in the Bryce's Cafeteria line and asked him to identify a certain dish she was unfamiliar with.

"What's that?" she said, pointing.

"Greens," Perot replied. "You never had greens before?"

Perot was nothing, if not direct.

In many ways, Perot was an open book to folks in Texarkana. He came back many times and told many stories about himself and growing up here. He was also routinely in the public eye for private ventures that made made headlines, so many here felt a kinship with him and his common sense approach that extended beyond a geographic affiliation.

In 1979, he financed an unofficial commando raid to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The story was all over the nightly news and later turned into a book and a movie.

Perot was never shy about his patriotism, and in the 1980s was involved in efforts to locate missing or imprisoned American soldiers after the Vietnam War. He talked privately with Vietnamese officials to this end, raising hackles in the Ronald Reagan administration which, at the time, was in negotiations with the country's government.

Perot grew up during the Great Depression, the son of a local cotton broker. He made money delivering newspapers on bicycle and horseback and loved telling the story about how he called his boss's bluff when he tried to renege on the agreed upon rate of pay and went to the publisher for relief. (See related story.)

At a press conference Tuesday at Texarkana College held to honor Perot, several of his friends and contemporaries spoke of his life and passions. TC President Dr. James Henry Russell mentioned his strong connection to the local newspaper.

"The Texarkana Gazette had a special place in Mr. Perot's life and heart," he said. "I don't think he was ever in this town and ever did a presentation without talking about his days of delivering the paper on horseback or bicycle and all the different people in different walks of life that he met and formed early, wonderful impressions about because of his time working, I think at 11 or 12 years old, delivering papers. So the media was important to Mr. Perot."

Perot's two presidential campaigns were all about the economy and his plan for fixing it.

In 1992 he spent more than $63 million of his own money on his campaign—unheard of at the time. The incumbent, George H.W. Bush was facing Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, and Perot's strong showing was seen in some circles as lost votes for Bush that ultimately swung the election to Clinton.

He bought short commercials on television and using his personal power of persuasion, graphs and charts (long before the era of Power Point presentations) and the catchy hook, "It's just that simple."

He founded the Reform Party in the wake of this loss, but four years later the movement lost traction. The percentage of the vote he tallied was basically halved. Still, his concerns about the federal budget and trade deficits linger into today's political conversations.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930.

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