The Way I See It...
Robin Rogers, Ed.D.
“Talk is cheap. Words are plentiful. Deeds are precious.” – Ross Perot
Last month, we lost a great American, a true patriot. Ross Perot came from Texarkana, USA. The son of a cotton broker, Perot earned his chops at an early age, slinging flower seeds and newspapers door-to-door, on foot and later horseback. He attended public school at TISD and then Texarkana College, both places he credited for great educations before he attended the Naval Academy. Later on, after Perot started Electronic Data Systems (EDS), sold EDS, tangled with Wall Street, clashed with General Motors, brokered hostages out of Iran, ran for president of the United States twice, started Perot Systems, and continued to grow people, companies and give back to this nation and her people, Ross Perot would drive his old car back to Texarkana to spend time with friends, eat at Bryce’s Cafeteria, and check on his childhood home in Highland Park. I was, without any doubt, one of Ross Perot’s biggest champions. He was the epitome of all that the American dream is: work hard, do your best, stay focused, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, dare to dream big, and then hustle to make those dreams a reality.
I remember being a teenager when Mr. Perot and his sister, Bette, took an active part in restoring the theatre that now bears their last name, the stately Perot Theatre. Ross Perot was a billionaire by this point, yet he never forgot his hometown, and investing in Texarkana was always a recurring theme.
One of the gutsiest moves Ross Perot ever made was getting involved in Texas politics with regard to education. In the mid 1980s, Perot lobbied for a change that rocked the state known for its Friday Night Lights in its most precious asset – its football roster. Spending a great deal of his own capital and influence, Ross helped pass legislation that mandated players must pass their educational coursework in order to play ball. HB 72 became known as “No Pass. No Play.” There were mixed reactions, but Perot knew that kids needed motivation to study, and if grades were tied to earning a place on the team, grades would rise.
By the time I turned 18 and registered to vote, it was too late for me to vote in a presidential election. Three years later, my hometown hero was actually a candidate on the ballot for president of the United States. The very first vote I cast was for Ross Perot, and I was 21. The second time I voted for president, I also cast my vote for Ross Perot. Like many Americans, he resonated with my own beliefs about politics, and his personal record of military service to the country, enormous success in his own business, and his faith and devotion to family and moral values excited me. The fact that he was from Texarkana was a bonus. Both times, he did not succeed, but he forever continued making large-scale differences throughout America as a private citizen.
I read everything I could about Ross Perot. My friends and family called me a groupie, and I couldn’t have been more proud. One birthday, I arrived at my office to a gift wrapped neatly and placed on my desk. Leah Orr had called Mr. Perot’s office and asked his secretary if he would sign a book for me in honor of my birthday. The story is still told today at our office. Leah was waiting on hold with his assistant, when Perot himself got on the phone and told her he would be happy to complete that task. Later on, Leah had mailed over a book that had been written about Perot’s life. She received another phone call from Ross himself. He wasn’t a fan of that particular book she sent, so he took it upon himself to send one that he liked and hoped that would be okay. That book is one of my prized possessions.
Owning Four States Living Magazine has offered me many incredible opportunities over the years for sure, but at the very top of my list of great moments is the two private interviews I had with Perot in Dallas in 2001 and again in 2015. Both times, he spent several hours with me, just talking about life, Texarkana and family. We had relatives in common; that’s fairly normal if you are from Texarkana, right? My grandfather and Ross’ Uncle Henry flew single engine planes that were hangared out at Shilling air strip. My grandparents’ house backed up to the air strip, and I spent inordinate amounts of time at that rusty old hangar, where Ross’ Uncle Henry was my peppermint candy supplier. Mr. Perot and I became fast friends reminiscing, and as one story led to another, he ended up driving me to his home, where he showed me his family treasures: his grandmother’s engagement ring that was mounted in a box and displayed on his fireplace mantle; and the many flour sack quilts that he had framed and hung in a standard, school-sized gymnasium that he had on his property. Years later, I got the chance to go back for another interview with Cassy Meisenheimer, his other greatest fan from home. It had been 14 years since I had seen him last, and he was 85, but as gracious, passionate, and vibrant as ever.
Shortly after that interview, Ross Perot came home and gave back to Texarkana in a way that no one else ever has. After Texarkana College suffered some budgetary issues in the late 2000s, Perot made a pledge to help future students have a community college that was fiscally sound and affordable to all; if the voters of Bowie County would approve the expansion of the college district through a tax annexation election, he would match up to $5 million in donations to the college over a five-year period. Again, in typical Ross Perot fashion, he would give a lot, but he expected TC leadership and citizens to act in equal measure before he would match efforts. In 2012, Texarkana College’s tax annexation election passed, and no one was more pleased than our hometown hero, who faithfully sent his $5 million dollars to his alma mater.
So many local people worked to make that election pass, but former alumnus, former TC Student Body President, and 1948 yearbook editor Ross Perot, standing up and making a promise and a pledge to the college where he got his start, was the fire in the belly of the people who made it pass.
To know Ross Perot was to admire him. I could write 10 more editorials on his service to our country, veterans, prisoners of war and our military. I could write even 10 more on his principled life. And 10 more could be written on his devotion to family. I lament that younger generations may only hear snippets about the Boy Scout billionaire from Texarkana who ran for president a couple of times. He. Was. So. Much. More.
As back to school approaches, though, I wanted to remind you of what a great Texarkanian he was and how he loved the place he always referred to as home – Texarkana. He was an education champion, much like another great man who stands for the people of Northeast Texas today in Austin, Representative Gary VanDeaver. VanDeaver is busy making laws that help education in our area and across the state. As a former superintendent, he also represents issues like safety in schools from an experiential background. He, too, is a good man doing good things with a servant’s drive. I hope you enjoy the many interesting pieces we share about education this month, as well as Representative VanDeaver’s cover story.
Should you want to learn more about Mr. Perot, visit the Palmer Memorial Library on the campus of Texarkana College to see the permanent exhibit on H. Ross Perot and his life.
You very well may run into me there, revisiting Perot’s book, “Principles of Success.” It’s my personal fave! In the meantime, enjoy this month’s issue, and as always, thanks for reading FSLM.
Henry Ross Perot
June 27, 1930 - July 9, 2019
May He Rest in Peace