In the past week, the Lone Star state has lost two men who are quintessentially Texan.
Nacogdoches county surveyor and avid history buff Jeff Opperman died unexpectedly on Independence Day, and self-made billionaire and two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot died Tuesday of leukemia. At a glance, the two men might seem worlds apart, but they are opposite sides of the same coin.
Opperman was a hard-working rural Texan with a love for the history of our great state. He gave endlessly of himself to our community though his work with the county and as a re-enactor. Opperman was in his third term as surveyor, an elected but nonpaid post.
“He was a great guy with a great family — just wonderful people,” County Judge Greg Sowell said.
We looked forward to chatting with him every year at the Texas Independence Day celebration at the Old University Building. He was always dressed in 1830s attire carrying a black powder musket so that young and old could feel as if they had just witnessed something special. One could easily picture him or his fellow re-enactors riding home from San Jacinto in triumph.
Opperman was also a major help in researching Texas Revolution soldiers for the 2017 dedication of the “Running to the Fight” statue that stands in downtown.
“Jeff was a true Texan,” said Peggy Jasso, member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, of which Opperman was an avid supporter.
He was indeed the embodiment of Texas. So was Ross Perot. The common bond between our late country surveyor and the brash billionaire was work ethic.
Take this for example. After leaving the Navy in 1957, Perot went to work for IBM in Dallas. Within three weeks, he’d fulfilled his annual sales quota. Restless and unable to get his supervisors to let him launch software and technical support, He founded Electronic Data Systems in 1962 and Perot Systems in 1988 after selling his previous company for $2.5 billion.
“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success,” Perot often said. “They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.”
Perot was the kind of Texan every one of us would be if we had a billion dollars to spare. The money he couldn’t spend, he gave away. He did his best to help his fellow man.
He became somewhat of a folk hero by trying to deliver medicine and gifts to prisoners of war in Vietnam and staging a commando raid to free prisoners in Iran in 1979.
Then dissatisfied with Washington — as most Texans have been for decades — Perot launched a presidential campaign in 1992. He received more than 4,000 votes in Nacogdoches County.
These two fine Texans are gone, but we can honor their memories and learn lessons from their lives.