Ross Perot's philanthropic legacy: Inspiring next generation of engineers

Ross Perot's philanthropic legacy: Inspiring next generation of engineers
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Earlier this week, America lost one of its most original thinkers and ardent advocates in Ross Perot. As we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of this extraordinary man — whose inspired generosity and patriotic spirit lifted not only those in North Texas but countless Americans across the nation — we can’t help but reflect on the philanthropic legacy he leaves behind.

While just one of many organizations the Perot family’s remarkable generosity has helped to build, we at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science recognize that ours is a special claim — of his name, his imagination, his challenging questions, his ingenuity and his drive for excellence. 

In 2008, Margot and Ross Perot’s children donated $50 million to name the Perot Museum in honor of their parents. Their gift was the critical launch to what became a $185-million capital campaign that built the Dallas-based museum. An engineer at heart, Perot believed in the power of science, technology, engineering and math to spark a chain reaction of success from individual people and companies to their larger communities and our nation. He was a proponent of STEM education — long before it became a popular buzzword — and saw the important role the museum could play in inspiring, encouraging and sustaining tomorrow’s STEM-capable workforce.

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“We need to have more and more of our children and young people become scientists and engineers. If we want to continue to be the source of new ideas and new inventions that create millions of jobs for our people across the country, we’ve got to have engineers,” Perot said of this vision.

He was also a keen-eyed pragmatist, who wanted to see an educated, innovative workforce emerge in America, and envisioned the Perot Museum as one expression of that effort. His gifts and support were not just charitable, they were investments in the communities he held dear, and he expected returns on those investments — returns in the form of an educated, healthy and productive society where all are invited to participate and contribute.  

Ten years after the Perot family’s founding gift of $50 million, the Perots made an additional gift of $5 million, which ensured that STEM education through the Perot Museum would be accessible to all people. True to Perot’s passions, this transformative gift provided the means for the Perot Museum to expand its military and first-responder free admission to a year-round program. It also allowed the museum’s Community Partners program to offer year-round $1 admission for anyone on government assistance, and it provides financial aid for tens of thousands of schoolchildren to visit the Perot Museum.  The spirit of these gifts underscores the fact that Perot never forgot those who serve our country or those who form its future.

And while Perot gave generously of his time and wealth, his greatest philanthropic contribution is the deep sense of civic duty he inspired in others. The Perots raised five children, who all continue to play significant volunteer leadership roles for nonprofit arts and culture, social service, and educational organizations across Dallas and the United States. While the financial support of the Perot family cannot be overstated, the dedication of the Perot family members and their generational commitment to servant leadership is truly the lasting legacy of Ross Perot’s philanthropic endeavors.

Perot will be missed not only by those who knew him personally, but also by those whose lives have been touched by his leadership, ingenuity, patriotism and compassion. His legacy as leader, independent thinker, technological trailblazer, and American patriot will endure and continue to serve as inspiration. 

Those of us who run the nonprofits that were imagined, supported and sustained by the Perot family’s inordinate generosity recognize that we are heirs and guardians of the hopes and expectations of an extraordinary American. It is our great honor to be a small part of the remarkable legacy of a true Texas giant, Ross Perot.

Linda Silver, Ed.D., is the Eugene McDermott Chief Executive Officer of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.