David Lauderdale

That time Ross Perot bought a Hilton Head Island home ... and never spent a night in it

Ross Perot, Texas billionaire and philanthropist, dies at 89

Ross Perot, who ran for president twice in the 1990s as a third-party candidate, died on July 9, 2019 after a battle with leukemia. He was 89.
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Ross Perot, who ran for president twice in the 1990s as a third-party candidate, died on July 9, 2019 after a battle with leukemia. He was 89.

Ross Perot once bought an oceanfront home on Hilton Head Island, but he never spent a night in it.

The quotable billionaire, who died Tuesday in Dallas at age 89, said it was because he didn’t want to live like an animal in a zoo.

Here’s how this outspoken American original almost became the one islander who could have, no doubt, straightened us all out.

It started in 1985.

That’s after Perot was famous for the “On Wings of Eagles” bestseller about his company rescuing two employees from a Tehran jail during the Iranian Revolution.

But it was before he became a household name with his independent run for president in 1992. Perot is remembered for pointing out the “giant sucking sound” of industry lost to Mexico, and for his running mate James Stockdale’s debate questions: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Perot, we were told at the time, scouted a handful of coastal communities before deciding Hilton Head is where he wanted a vacation home for family members and friends.

He called Sea Pines Real Estate Co. in response to an advertisement, then flew to the island to look around.

He decided on a home at 32 Surf Scoter Road, on the ocean in Sea Pines. At the time, it was a new five-bedroom, four-bath home with a swimming pool. Perot flew back in July for the closing at the Pope Avenue Mall law office of Bethea, Jordan & Griffin P.A.

The next week, The Island Packet published a story about it. It wasn’t so much that the famous Texas billionaire could be our neighbor, but that the house sold for $1.1 million. Nobody could remember an island home selling for more money. The headline read, “$1.1 million sale may be record.”

Nothing interests people on Hilton Head more than the price of real estate, with the possible exception of alligators and sharks, and so it was natural for the paper to report it.

But in February 1987, we discovered that our intriguing neighbor was never a neighbor, and the reason was the news.

“I bought the house — hoped not to have any publicity over it — got a huge amount of publicity over it, so I never spent a night in the house,” Perot told our reporter in a telephone interview. “The news was splashed all over the place.”

He said he was concerned about the safety of his family and preferred to keep real estate purchases quiet, even though he bought the island house under his own name.

“Unfortunately,” Perot added, “I can’t return to Hilton Head. Unless I want to be an animal in a zoo with people driving by my house all the time.”

In his sale, he gained ownership of an office at Executive Center at Sea Pines Circle, but put it on the market the same day.

Perot owned his island home for about 18 months. He sold it in February 1987 for $1.2 million. Today, with a new, 6,611-square-foot home on it, the property is listed on the Beaufort County tax roles with a market value of $4.7 million.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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