Texas and the entire nation lost a giant this past week and there may be a lot of people who aren’t aware of his connection to Denison and Lake Texoma. Some may have memories of meeting H. Ross Perot while he was at his weekend home or racing his son in their speed boats on the lake.
One such memory was shared last week by Bob Blanton of Denison. Bob said Dr. Robert Henderson, who lived on Lake Texoma, once told him a great story about Perot’s encounter with his mother, who lived in Thompson Heights, not far from where he was building his weekend get-away on the lake. Dr. Henderson and his mother, Mae Henderson, now are both deceased, but Mae will be remembered by many for having worked a long time at Johnson-Moore Funeral Home.
Mae’s home was in Thompson Heights on the edge of a white rock road that was being used by Perot’s construction group working on building his home. Mae, being a person who was friendly with everyone, had cooked a pie for Perot, who had come to visit her and introduce himself as a new neighbor. He told her that if she needed anything to call him anytime and left his telephone number with her.
One day while she was doing laundry and was hanging her wash on the clothesline in her yard, the big concrete trucks began to roll up and down the white rock road and the dust was getting all over her newly washed sheets. So she took Perot up on his offer to help and gave him a call. He immediately answered the phone and said “What can I do for you, Mrs. Henderson?” When she told him what was happening, he told her he would take care of it.
The trucks stopped coming. Shortly after that, a big water truck pulled up outside with a string of concrete trucks right behind it. First, the truck watered down the road. Then, the concrete trucks went down and returned. Before every trip down the road, the water truck first watered it down. Dr. Henderson said this went on for days until the trucks were finished with their job.
Then Perot called Mae back and asked her if everything was working. She thanked him and he said, “That’s what good neighbors do.” As Bob said, this is just one small story about a really great guy.
Bill Russell, now deceased, owned and operated the Embers Restaurant in Denison, near the south end of the Austin Avenue viaduct. Once when we were eating at the Embers, Bill told us a story about Perot that had stuck with me all these years. He said that during the time Perot’s home was being built on Lake Texoma, he frequently he came to Denison on the weekend. Most of the time he stopped on the way back to his home in Dallas and had a hamburger or chicken basket.
Bill liked to talk to his customers, especially when they became regulars. On one particular Sunday night after Perot stopped in there, he called Bill back when he got not far south and said “I believe I left my hat at the Embers and would you please save it for me until I come to Denison next time.” Bill said the hat was what we call a “gimmie cap” and a favorite of the billionaire. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later Perot came in to eat and collected his hat.
When I started talking to my husband about doing a column about Perot I remembered something that I had forgotten. David, (now retired) was a brick mason by trade and he and his partner, Larry Wade, did the brick and rock work on Perot’s house and surrounding pool, wall and trim. David said he came in contact with Perot many times during the several weeks that he and Larry were at work there. He said they had opportunities to meet and talk with Perot several times and found him to be an “all right fellow.” He always was complimentary on their work and took the time to chat with them every time he was at the building site.
I’m sure there are many people here who had an opportunity to meet Perot. He was born in 1930 in Texarkana, Texas, making him a Texan by heart and was a patriotic citizen. The Dallas Morning News on Sunday did almost an entire section on Perot and I read every article. Stories of him unselfishly putting his money where it could do the most good whether it was for some wounded veteran or some cancer patient who didn’t have the money for her treatment were told by people whose lives he had touched.
As a youngster he sold newspapers, first by horse and later by bicycle. He developed an instinct for sales and with IBM in 1962, he met his sales quota for the entire year that first month. In 1979 when two EDS employees were being held hostage in Tehran, he organized and financed a mission to free them. The rescue was memoralized in the best-selling book by Ken Follett, “On Wings of Eagles.”
Perot was devoted to his family – his wife, his sister, son, four daughters and their children. He said that his father always was his best friend. His son, Ross Perot Jr., expressed story after story of his acts of kindness and his love for his family in the full page obituary. All the while he was an ordinary man, if a billionaire can be ordinary.
There are so many things that could be said about the man who ran twice for president of the United States and was never elected. But he made his mark on this country none-the-less and will be remembered as someone who cared about his family, his country, his state, his employees and his patriotism.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.