Texas billionaire known for philanthropy and supporting major GOP candidates


Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons photographed in his North Dallas office, June 11, 2007. (TOM FOX/AP)
December 30, 2013

Harold Simmons, the Texas corporate raider nicknamed the “Ice Man” after structuring leveraged takeover bids using junk bonds in the 1970s and ’80s and who bankrolled advertising attacking Democratic political candidates, died Dec. 28 at a hospital in Dallas. He was 82.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and state Attorney General Greg Abbott confirmed his death in separate statements. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Simmons supported Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election and gave more than $15.7 million to Republican super-political action committees in that election cycle, according to Bloomberg News. He also was known for his charitable giving as well, donating more than $400 million to medical and educational causes, mostly in Texas, including $177 million to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Harold Clark Simmons was born May 13, 1931, in Golden, Tex.. His parents were schoolteachers, and he grew up in a house without electricity or plumbing. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas, where he earned a master’s degree in economics and played basketball, he worked as a bank auditor before buying his first drugstore in Dallas in 1960 for $5,000 cash and a $95,000 loan.

Over the next 12 years, Mr. Simmons turned it into a 100-store chain scattered across Texas, with a boost from an $18 million leveraged buyout of Ward’s Drug Store in 1969. He sold the chain to Eckerd Corp. in 1973 for more than $50 million.

Subsequent deals, such as his investment in titanium products maker Valhi Inc., typified his ability to recognize underpriced assets and put him at the forefront of the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s.

Over the years, Mr. Simmons owned a sugarbeet processor, a savings and loan and fast-food restaurants. He made headline-generating, if unsuccessful, bids to buy defense contractor Lockheed Corp. and Pacific Southwest Airlines.

“They call me a takeover artist and make you think I come and steal something,” he told D Magazine in 1982. “Hell, I offer to buy that stock at a higher price than anyone else will pay.”

Mr. Simmons’s net worth rose to $8 billion in 2013, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He was the 158th richest individual in the world when he died and the 56th wealthiest in the United States, according to the daily ranking.

He was the owner and chairman of Contran Corp., a closely held company that controlled a number of industrial businesses. Valhi, his biggest holding, owns Waste Control Specialists, a 1,338-acre Texas facility that disposes of radioactive waste.

In 2008, Mr. Simmons bankrolled ads linking then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to William Ayers, a Vietnam-era militant who helped found the violent Weather Underground. Simmons was also a key backer of the Swift Boat Veterans’ attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

Mr. Simmons also called Obama “the most dangerous American alive” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last year.

According to the Dallas Morning News, his foundation has also recently donated $600,000 to Resource Center, a group that serves the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Other donations have included $5 million to the campaign to build the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.

— From news services

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