The Washington Post

Bob Perry, generous donor to Republicans, dies at 80

Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, posing at the sales center at one of his developments in December 2002. Perry died April 14. He was 80. (Melissa Phillip/AP)

Bob Perry, a Houston home builder and Republican Party donor who became a force in bankrolling political advertisements, including the campaign by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to discredit the military record of then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, died over the weekend at his home in Nassau Bay, near Houston. He was 80.

Texas state Rep. Neal Jones, a family friend, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.

Mr. Perry was a fixture of GOP fundraising in Texas — and nationally — dating back to former President George W. Bush’s Texas gubernatorial races in the mid-1990s. His largesse included giving $4.4 million in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans campaign.

Mr. Perry spent prolifically on politics but did so from a distance. He rarely gave interviews, skipped fancy fundraisers and was a mystery even to many of his benefactors.

Yet Mr. Perry couldn’t avoid attention following his financing of the Swift Boat ads, which challenged Kerry’s Navy combat service in Vietnam, for which he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three awards of the Purple Heart.

Some Democrats blamed Kerry’s slow response to the criticism for sinking his candidacy.

Mr. Perry donated money to help start the veterans group at the urging of his friend John O’Neill, a Houston lawyer who co-wrote “Unfit for Command,” a book that questioned Kerry’s military service.

Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist whom Perry hired as a spokesman when scrutiny surrounding the ads erupted, said in 2004 that Perry’s donation to the Swift Boat Veterans reflected his belief in the group’s message.

“In my conversations with Bob, he just said, ‘John contacted me, told me what he was trying to do, and it sounded good to me.’ That’s really the way he does it,” Miller said. “People call him and pitch him, and if he likes what he hears, he’ll write a check.”

Mr. Perry was a prominent financial supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. (They were not related.)

Last year alone, Bob Perry gave more than $18 million to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and organizations that backed his candidacy. That ranked him third among all Romney donors, behind Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons.

Mr. Perry also was involved in state politics. Late last year, he gave $45,000 to George P. Bush, the 36-year-old nephew of former President George W. Bush who is now running for Texas land commissioner in his first bid for public office.

Mr. Perry’s generosity extended to other statehouses. Mr. Perry donated at least $250,000 to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker defeat a recall effort last year, making Mr. Perry among the largest of Walker’s out-of-state donors.

He was born Bobby Jack Perry in Bosque County, Texas, in 1932, according to a Texas Monthly profile. His father was principal of an elementary school and later vice president of student affairs at Baylor University in Waco.

Mr. Perry graduated with a degree in education from Baylor University and taught at high schools and coached football before switching to a career in construction and home building. He formed Houston-based Perry Homes in 1968, and it became one of the largest home builders in Texas.

He and his wife, Doylene, had four children.

— From staff and wire reports

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