Obituary of Ross Perot
With the death of Henry Ross Perot, the world has lost a true American patriot and a man of rare vision, integrity and deep kindness. The ground-breaking businessman and loving husband, brother, father and grandfather, passed away on July 9, 2019, at his home in Dallas, surrounded by his devoted family. He was 89 years old.
Ross was born June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, Texas, to Gabriel Ross and Lulu May Perot. Ross often said that although he was born during the Great Depression, he was abundantly blessed in all the ways that mattered most because of the love and example of his wonderful parents. He gave them credit for laying the foundation for all of his later successes. This foundation was, at its core, a deep faith in God. His parents emphasized the importance of honesty and generosity, hard work and the central value of family.
The Boy Scouts shaped his life immeasurably. As a member of Texarkana’s Troop 18, Ross became an Eagle Scout at the age of 13. He credited the Scouts with teaching him to be a morally upright and responsible citizen, with a commitment to better the lives of his fellow man, his community and his country.
After graduating from Texarkana High School in 1947, he enrolled at Texarkana College, where he helped found the school’s yearbook, organized intramural sports and served as president of his class.
In the spring of 1949, Ross received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, which had been his longtime dream. As he often said, “I had never seen the ocean, and I had never seen a ship — but I knew that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy.” He served as president of his class and as chairman of the Honor Committee, which developed the Naval Academy’s Honor Code.
While at the Naval Academy, he met the love of his life, Margot Birmingham, then a student at Goucher College in Baltimore. They were married Sept. 15, 1956, at the First Presbyterian Church in Margot’s hometown of Greensburg, Penn.
After graduating 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. Later, as he was preparing to leave the Navy, he was offered a job as a salesman at IBM in Dallas.
Sales was a skill he learned early; he often shared that he had his business school experience in the streets of Texarkana. He started his entrepreneurial journey working at his father’s side selling saddles, later progressing to selling the horses as well. In his words, he was the “day trader” of his time. He would buy a horse in the morning and sell it that afternoon to make a small profit. Ross applied those same skills to selling Christmas cards and garden seeds door to door and then newspapers in one of Texarkana’s poorest neighborhoods, first by horse and later by bike. He also worked after school and during breaks at his father’s cotton brokerage and as a teen training horses. With this early training, he developed an instinct for sales. At IBM, he excelled, to the point that in January of 1962, he met his sales quota for the entire year.
With characteristic modesty, Ross often remarked that he did well at IBM because of high demand. Every large company thought they needed a computer, so it was, as he said, “like selling umbrellas when it was raining.” In truth, he was determined in his efforts to sell what were then million-dollar machines. He was thorough with his research and attentive to the customers’ needs, and because of that, he began to notice that few of his customers knew how to operate their computer systems. In addition to hardware, Ross believed that IBM should begin offering a full suite of data processing services, customized to each client. Seeing an unmet need and an opportunity, he tried
o persuade IBM to enter the computer support services business. When the company declined, Ross decided to strike out on his own. He took the chance and on June 27, 1962, with $1,000 saved from his work and Margot’s teaching salary, he founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS).
“Our business is the intelligent use of computers” was the EDS tagline. In reality, the business was the start a new industry: information technology services. In the coming years, he would take EDS public, create a second company, Perot Systems, and take that public, too. Ross had a keen instinct for spotting great talent and the EDS and Perot Systems teams were full of the best and brightest. Together, those two companies created tens of thousands of jobs in the United States and internationally. They not only created an industry, but also laid the foundation for the future technological era.
In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action. He valued what Teddy Roosevelt called “the man in the arena,” the one who strives valiantly, with great courage, not standing on the sidelines. Like his father, Ross had a sunny optimism, believing that with effort and skill, almost any problem could be solved. When he saw a problem, he stepped up and tried to fix it. His actions revealed his philosophy: “If not me, who? And if not now, when?”
Ross was a loyal son of Texas and a deeply patriotic citizen, and over the years, he served at the request of governors and presidents on various committees and task forces. In 1979, he was appointed by Gov. Bill Clements to lead the Texas War on Drugs to toughen drugs laws in the state and increase public awareness. In 1984, at the behest of Gov. Mark White, he led a statewide education reform initiative that recommended pay increases for teachers, preschool programs for disadvantaged students, more state aid to property-poor school districts. His willingness to serve his country was most public in his two presidential campaigns, in 1992 and 1996. Both times he ran as a third-party candidate with a platform centered on campaign reform, protecting American workers from outsourcing, and cutting the national debt. His 1992 run was particularly historic. In that election, he won 19.7 million votes, almost 20% of the total. It was more than any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912.
Ross received 19 honorary doctorates from universities and numerous prestigious awards for his humanitarianism and business achievements. Notable among the awards were the Winston Churchill Award, presented by Prince Charles and Nancy Reagan; the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for his commitment to national security; the Distinguished Graduate Award from the U.S. Naval Academy; and the National Patriot Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He was given the Horatio Alger Award, enshrined in the Texas Business Hall of Fame and received 19 honorary doctorates from universities. For a full listing, please go to rossperot.com.
Ross was a deeply devoted man and especially was dedicated to the men and women who fight for our freedom. As a veteran, he knew the sacrifices made by the armed forces and he supported them in every way he could. Some of his efforts were very public: During the Vietnam War, he joined forces with the wives of the U.S. POWs to raise awareness for those men who were either missing in action or being held captive. He organized mission trips to improve the conditions of POWs and worked tirelessly to secure their freedom. After the first Gulf War, Ross 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 ailment was later recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as Gulf War Syndrome and led to federally funded treatment of those suffering its debilitating symptoms. However, most of his efforts on behalf of service members were private and individual. Each interaction left him more in awe of these courageous and patriotic Americans and he was honored to be to be called upon.
As a child in the Depression, he witnessed his mother feeding strangers who would knock on their door. She told him, “these people are just like us but they are down on their luck.” With that inspiration, he and Margot established the Perot Foundation in 1969 with the goal of helping fund projects that would improve people’s lives. Since then, the Foundation has supported education programs, health care research, cultural and arts institutions, veterans’ causes and programs to meet immediate human needs and reduce suffering.
Ross was also deeply devoted to his employees. In 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, two EDS employees were held hostage in Tehran. Ross organized and financed a mission to free them. The rescue was memorialized in the best-selling book by Ken Follett, “On Wings of Eagles.”
As Ross’ health declined over the last decade, those he cared for so deeply were able to return the devotion. He found comfort in familiar routines and went to the office each morning where he relished time with longtime friends and employees. Whether it was Saturdays at Lake Texoma, summer days in Bermuda and at home, he was beautifully cared for by a team of talented people who always went above and beyond with great tenderness. In addition to family, they were some of his closest friends. For this, his family will be eternally grateful.
Above all else, Ross was devoted to his family. He always said his father was his best friend; when he died in 1955, it was a tremendous blow. He remained close to his mother, whom he sought out for both company and counsel, until her death in 1979. Likewise, his adored sister Bette was a close confidant, both at the Perot Foundation, where she served as director for many years, and in life. Ross and Bette visited every day until his death.
He was married to the love of his life for 62 years, and for each day of it, he felt lucky she had agreed to be his wife. Margot was his partner in their many endeavors and a perfect complement in every way. If there was a dance floor, Ross and Margot could be found on it. They delighted in each other’s company and Ross was dazzled by Margot until the end. He raved about her beauty, her compassion, her warmth and her “world-class mothering skills”. Together they had five children, whom he always said were “too good to be true.”
Despite his many commitments, Ross was a steady, reliable, and loving presence in the lives of his family. He was home each day at 6:30 for dinner, coming through the door with a whistle, sitting down at the table, and asking them about their day.
Ross and Margot provided their children with amazing experiences and outdoor family adventures. When they purchased their home in 1970, Ross was thrilled to have space for a stable which he filled with horses and ponies for the whole family. Numerous dogs and cats, a goat, a circus dog, a bear, an eagle and a camel made their home a magical place to grow up.
Ross learned to ski in his 40s and enjoyed almost 40 years of family trips to Vail, where he loved the exhilaration of skiing as fast as possible in his inimitable style with family members streaming behind and attempting to keep up with his pace.
His passion for boats and the open water engendered in the Navy was never far away: Weekends were spent at Lake Texoma and summers in Bermuda, where he enjoyed the pristine beauty of the island he and Margot first visited in 1957. He was happiest piloting his boat on afternoon cruises around the island, blaring John Phillip Sousa marches and being surrounded by his grandchildren.
Ross was a devoted grandfather to 16 grandchildren and three step-grandchildren, and he enriched their lives, broadened their horizons and set an example of integrity, courage and living one’s life with the highest of principles. As with his children, “Papa” was more proud of their accomplishments than of his own.
Ross was a man who did more in his long and, by his own assessment, “lucky” life than seems humanly possible. Yet through it all, he said his family was the brightest light of his life. Not only was he warm and affectionate, but also he was great fun to be with and made everyone laugh with his famous sense of humor and legendary pranks. He will be deeply missed by all who loved him. He lived a long and honorable life.
Ross is preceded in death by his mother Lulu May Perot; his father Gabriel Ross Perot Sr.; and his brother Gabriel Ross Perot Jr.
He 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; his grandchildren Hill, Hunter, Sarah Catherine (and her husband Reed Ruschhaupt) and Meredith Perot; Ross (and his wife Tori), Price, Ben and Clayton Mulford; Patrick, William, Margot and Cameron McGee; Henry and Bette Rathjen; Kate Flanagan and Stuart Reeves; and three step-grandchildren Elizabeth Reeves and Caroline and Will Jones.
Ross is also survived by the many lives he touched.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to one of Ross’ favorite charities: the Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the Salvation Army DFW, the North Texas Food Bank, the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas and Teach for America. An act of kindness to a friend, neighbor or stranger in your community will further honor his memory and celebrate the influence of a remarkable life.