Ross Perot was born June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, Texas. He grew up in Texarkana where he attended public schools and Texarkana Junior College. Perot’s parents, Ross and Lulu May Perot, have been major influences in both his and his sister Bette’s lives. Although the family lived in modest circumstances, Perot has repeatedly stated that he was born rich because of his parents.
Beginning at age seven, Perot worked at various jobs throughout his boyhood, including breaking horses, selling Christmas cards, magazines, and garden seeds, buying and selling bridles, saddles, horses and calves, delivering newspapers, and collecting for classified ads.
He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1949 and graduated in 1953. While at the Naval Academy, he served as class president, chairman of the honor committee, and battalion commander. After graduation, Perot served at sea for four years on a destroyer and an aircraft carrier.
In 1956, he married Margot Birmingham from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, whom he met while a midshipman at the Naval Academy. Upon his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1957, Ross and Margot settled in Dallas where he went to work for IBM’s data processing division as a salesman.
Margot taught school during the early years of their marriage. In 1962, she loaned Perot $1,000 from her savings account to start a one-man data processing company. He named the company Electronic Data Systems. Today, EDS is a multi-billion dollar corporation employing more than 70,000 people.
In 1969, the U.S. government asked Perot to determine what action might be taken to improve the brutal treatment our POW’s were receiving in Southeast Asia. He worked on this project for the next four years, placing himself and his family at considerable personal risk, until the prisoners were released in 1972 at the end of the Vietnam War. In recognition of his efforts, Perot received the Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest civilian award presented by the Department of Defense.
When two EDS employees were taken hostage by the Iranian government in 1979, Perot directed a successful rescue mission composed of EDS employees and led by Colonel Arthur ‘Bull’ Simons. Perot personally went into Iran and inside the prison where his associates were held. Noted author, Ken Follett, write a best selling novel, On Wings of Eagles, about the rescue. An NBC TV miniseries was later made about this event.
Later that same year, the governor of Texas requested Perot’s help in dealing with the growing problem of the use of illegal drugs in the state. Perot led the Texans’ War on Drugs Committee that proposed five laws to make Texas the least desirable state for illegal drug operations. All five bills were passed by the legislature and signed into law.
In 1982, another Texas governor asked for Perot’s assistance to improve a deteriorating situation — the quality of public education in the state. Recognizing that a first-class educational system is the foundation for economic improvement, Perot led the effort to reform the school system. This program resulted in major legislative changes and improvements in Texas public schools.
Perot accepted another challenge in 1984 when he sold EDS to General Motors for $2.5 billion. The ownership that he retained in the company made him GM’s largest individual stockholder and a member of the board of directors. After major disagreements over the quality of GM automobiles, Perot resigned from the GM board in 1986. In 1988, he started a new computer service company, Perot Systems. Today that company operates in the United States and Europe.
In 1984, Perot purchased the only copy of the Magna Carta that has been allowed to be taken out of Great Britain. It has been placed on loan to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where it is displayed alongside the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The Perot family is actively involved in charitable and civic activities. They have given over $100 million to various causes.