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Ross Perot Dead at 89; Brash Billionaire Who Ran for President

Ross Perot in 1992, shortly before he announced that he was running for president. He finished with 19 percent of the popular vote, the strongest third-party showing since Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose run in 1912.

He began working at...

He began working at 7, selling garden seeds door to door and later breaking horses (and his nose) for his father at a dollar a head. When he was 12, he began delivering The Texarkana Gazette on horseback in poor neighborhoods, soliciting subscriptions and building his route from scratch for extra commissions. He did so well his boss tried to cut his commissions, but he backed off when the boy went to the publisher.

He changed his name to Henry Ross Perot in honor of a brother, Gabriel Ross Perot Jr., who died, just a toddler, in 1927. The family pronounced the surname PEE-roe, but in his 20s he changed that, too, making it puh-ROE, because, he said, he got tired of correcting people. He called himself Ross; years later, the news media added the initial “H” at the beginning of his name, but he never liked it.

He joined the Boy Scouts at 12 and in little more than a year was an Eagle Scout, an extraordinary achievement that became part of his striver’s legend. After two years at Texarkana Junior College, he won appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where, despite academic mediocrity, he was elected class president and graduated in 1953.

In his senior year, Mr. Perot met Margot Birmingham, a student at Goucher College in Baltimore. They married in 1956. She survives him, as do his son, Ross Jr.; four daughters, Nancy Perot, Suzanne McGee, Carolyn Rathjen and Katherine Reeves; 16 grandchildren; three step-grandchildren; and a sister, Bette Perot.

In the Navy for four years, Lieutenant (j.g.) Perot served aboard a destroyer and an aircraft carrier, sailing around the world, but he saw no combat. Military life chafed, especially the waiting in line for promotion.

He mustered out in 1957, joined I.B.M. in Dallas and became an outstanding computer salesman, once fulfilling his annual quota in three weeks. Restless for new ventures, he urged the company to get into software and technical support, but his supervisors were uninterested. He quit, and in 1962 he founded Electronic Data Systems to sell computer services: billing and payrolls, insurance claims, check-clearing for banks, eventually the paperwork for Medicare and state Medicaid systems.

The company struggled for a few years, but by the mid-1960s it was on its way. It went public in 1968, and its stock jumped to $162 a share from $16, making Mr. Perot one of America’s richest men. Many of his employees became millionaires, but all had to conform to his codes: conservative suits and short hair for the men, no slacks for women unless it was freezing. And no marital infidelities.

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