Although not altogether unexpected, news of Ross Perot’s death sent sad shockwaves through the region today. Tributes from political and business leaders poured in. With good reason. The self-made billionaire was larger-than-life, and he had a profound impact that spread far beyond North Texas.
My thoughts immediately went to Perot’s son, Ross Jr., chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group. A few years back, I had the pleasure of spending the day with the two Perots. Out of the many interviews I’ve done over the years, this one truly stands out. Not just because it was fun to hear about some of the escapades the two have shared, but for being able to witness the incredibly close bond that existed between them. The afternoon was capped by the ever-mischievous elder Perot pulling a practical joke on his son.
I’m sitting between Ross Perot Jr. and Ross Perot Sr. at a large, round conference room table at Dell’s corporate office in Plano, which also houses The Perot Group. We’re talking family vacations. Ross Sr. is telling me about a trip they took when his son was about 14.
“We were going around the world, and I realized one of my friends from the Naval Academy was the captain of a nuclear submarine off the coast of Scotland,” Ross Sr. says. “I called him and asked him if, by chance, we could take Ross out on the submarine.”
“It was just like the movies,” Ross Jr. says. “We get on a tugboat and head out to sea. There was this dense fog, then out of the fog rises this submarine. We went down below for about 24 hours, and we were literally being chased. It was at the height of the Cold War, and we were trying to throw off the Russians. For a kid, it was an amazing experience.”
The Perots went on to spend the night on a Navy ship off the coast of North Vietnam, watching pilots take off for their airstrikes. A few years later, they traveled through the Panama Canal on a destroyer.
“We had some great adventures with the Navy,” Ross Jr. says.
“But then he went into the Air Force,” Ross Sr. jokes. “I did all I could.”