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Personality Spotlight;NEWLN:H. Ross Perot: Billionaire philanthropist

Billionaire H. Ross Perot, who admits he was involved in a failed scheme to ransom back American hostages from Iran, has a history of taking on patriotic and daring projects.

He once financed a trip by wives of Vietnam POWs to peace talks in Paris, tried to fly two cargo planes of food and medicine to Hanoi for POWs during the Vietnam war and offered a $100 million ransom for them that was refused.

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His most famous effort was assembling a team of commandos to rescue two of his employees from a Tehran prison during the Iranian revolution in 1979, a mission that also freed 11,000 other prisoners.

In his latest exploit, Perot said he was involved in attempts to ransom several American hostages held in Lebanon, providing several million dollars at the urging of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer at the center of a clandestine operation that sent arms to Iran and funds to the Nicaraguan rebels.

Perot started his Electronic Data Systems Corp. with $1,000 in capital and made a fortune, then began spending money on projects that mirrored his love of patriotism, loyalty and hard work.

Always outspoken, Perot was ousted Monday from the General Motors board of directors after months of bickering with top executives over management of the automaker. The firm said it would buy back Perot's GM stock for $700 million.

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Perot, 56, a wiry 5-foot-6, sports a blond crew cut and favors dark suits and white shirts. He and his wife, the former Margot Birmingham, have three daughters and a son and live comfortably but not lavishly in a North Dallas suburb.

Forbes magazine this year estimated his net worth as $2.5 billion, the same amount he sold his electronics corporation to GM.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana, Texas, in 1930 and went to work at age 6 breaking horses for his father, Gabriel Ross Perot, a cotton broker and part-time horse trader.

At age 12, H. Ross covered his paper route on horseback and soon was earning $40 a week.

In 1949, he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Perot graduated only 454th in a class of 925 but his classmates elected him best all-around midshipman and life president of the class.

Perot left the Navy in 1957 and became a computer salesman for IBM in Dallas. In his fifth year with the company, he sold his year's quota in the first week in January.

With $1,000 in capital, he incorporated EDS in 1962 with the idea of providing computer services for medium and large corporations.

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He bought computer time wholesale from a large insurance company and sold it at retail. His list of clients began to grow, primarily insurance companies and soon including the giant Blue Cross-Blue Shield system.

EDS at one time handled the Medicade billing in Tennessee, Washington, Idaho, North Carolina, Alabama and Texas. Many contracts were awarded to EDS without the company having to bid for them, simply because its expertise was so far beyond that of the competition.

Perot became a billionaire and a philanthropist. An unabashed moralist, he always was willing to spend whatever was needed in a cause he deemed worthy.

In 1969, four wives of Vietnam POWs asked Perot for help. He financed their unsuccessful trip to the Paris peace talks and started the United We Stand campaign that collected tons of mail, food, clothes and medicine for POWS.

Perot chartered two planes and with his cargo headed for Hanoi at Christmastime 1969. He was not allowed to land in North Vietnam, nor were his later efforts successful. In 1970, he offered $100 million ransom for the prisoners but the offer was ignored.

In 1979, two EDS computer engineers who were in Tehran helping run the $41 million computer system for Iran's version of social security were jailed during the revolution and held for $12.75 million ransom.

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Perot hired retired Army Col. Arthur 'Bull' Simons to lead 14 EDS volunteers to rescue the men. Perot and Simons made several inspections of Gasre Prison and decided an assault would not work. They then arranged for a mob of paid Iranian revolutionaries to storm the prison, freeing 11,000 prisoners, including the two employees, who were smuggled back to the United States.

Among Perot's other projects:

-In 1971 Perot pumped millions of dollars into the brokerage house of Dupont Glore Forgan Inc., keeping the firm from financial collapse.

-In 1974 Perot made a bet with 40 Air Force Academy cadets on the football game with Navy, Perot's alma mater. The bet: If Navy won, the cadets would cut their hair into Perot-style crewcuts; if the Air Force won, Perot would finance the cadets and a date to a vacation spot of their choice for a weekend. Navy, and Perot, lost.

-In 1985 Perot offered $70 million to the Museum of the American Indian, one of the largest collections of Indian art and artifacts, if it would move to Dallas from New York. The offer spurred efforts by New Yorkers to find better quarters for the museum in the city.

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