Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paint Creek Boy to Run For President



Rick Perry has announced his run for the Presidency.

From the Telegraph UK.

Paint Creek, where ranches and wooden homes, some now abandoned, are dotted beside cotton and wheat fields, is the place that defines the man who some Republicans believe could unseat President Barack Obama next November.

The cotton fields at Paint Creek are empty this year because of the fearsome drought. But amid the dust and searing heat, beneath a vast blue sky, the farmland of Mr Perry’s youth is still being worked. Life here is as hard as ever.

At the school, from which Mr Perry graduated third in a class of 13 in 1968, Don Ballard, the school superintendent, reflected on the place that had made Mr Perry what he is.

“We had farm values,” he said “We got up, we worked and we knew what the dollar meant. There was no squandering money here there and yonder. Everybody struggled.

“You’d have a good crop one year and maybe a bad crop the next. Rick Perry understands being up and being down and that if you’re down you’ve got to work to get back up. Most of the families round here want their kids to be better and have more than what they had growing up.” Mr Perry is descended from Confederate veterans of the Civil War on both sides. In an old interview, his grandfather Hoyt Perry, who died in 1992, recalled how his father arrived at Paint Creek in 1887.

“The whole country was covered with prairie dogs. The buffaloes were killed in about the 1870s. I did a lot of farming with the mules. We made our own toys. We made a wheel with an axle and rolled it around.” The future Texas governor spent his teens living in a brick bungalow that his father built a field away from the wooden frame home. J.R. “Ray” Perry and his wife Amelia, now in their mid-80s, still reside there.

Outside the house, beside a dusty farm road, the elder Mr Perry, who was out fixing his irrigation system, describes how he took a bus from Paint Creek after graduating from the school in 1943 and joined the US Air Force.

He was subsequently stationed at RAF Horham in Suffolk, from which he flew missions over Germany in B-17 bombers.

“Rick took us back there four or five years ago and we went to the old base. Of course there was nothing there, just a little strip of runway that they didn’t destroy. The rest they turned back into fields.

“I flew 35 missions as a tail gunner and never got a scratch. We had one gunner killed and one wounded. They got damn close to me but they missed me.” His son followed him into the Air Force in 1972 and became a transport pilot, flying C-130s in Europe and the Middle East.

Bob Earles went to Paint Creek School with Mr Perry and was a fellow Boy Scout. They both went to Valley Pennsylvania for the Boys Scouts of America Jamboree of 1964 and visited Washington, where they were given a tour of the Capitol.

“It was different world,” he says. “Back here we’d water ski on the lake in summer and camp out. If we did something wrong and got in trouble, the scoutmaster would call a board of education รข “ a wooden paddle. It was a real Christian place. Baptist or Methodist, everyone was one or the other.” In the summer of 1966, Bob Earles introduced Ricky Perry to a girl called Anita Thigpen, who lived in the town of Haskell about 10 miles away and was staying at a lake cabin. “I saw a lot less of him after that,” Mr Earles joked. After a 16-year courtship, the two married and today Anita Perry is First Lady of Texas.

At the Double A Drive-In restaurant and the Rodriquez Inn, where the Texas governor still dines when he visits, there is still talk of Mr Perry’s antics as a youngster.

Bob Earles remembers the time when the two of them climbed on the school roof and built a snowman, intending to push it off on top of the girls’ basketball team. Unfortunately, the snowman landed on the head of the school superintendent.

Phil Coleman, one of Mr Perry’s class of 13 and another scout, climbed up a small canvas tower next to his tent to come face to face with a dead bull snake that had been placed there by his friend. “It scared the pants off me,” he says, laughing. “I jumped right off that tower. I guess he thought it was funny. I didn’t at the time.” After the Air Force, Mr Perry returned home to become a rancher, going into business with his father, a Democrat who served as an elected County Commissioner. In 1984, after considering becoming a commercial pilot, he decided to enter politics and run for state representative.

His friend Don Comedy, married to a girl from Mr Perry’s high school class, was his campaign manager. The district was so big that the pair used Mr Perry’s 1952 Piper Super Cub plane, decorating its cloth-covered fuselage with campaign stickers.

The population was so sparse that when they spotted a farmer on a tractor in his fields they would swoop down to land so they could canvas him.



“Once we had to land in a pasture due to fog,” he recalls. “A rancher came by in his pickup. We were both wearing coats and ties. Rick says 'Howdy’ and reaches into his jacket for a leaflet. I hear this lever action of a rifle – a very distinctive sound.

“This guy thinks we were drug dealers. Rick is looking down a rifle but he keeps talking.” By the time the conversation had finished, the rancher had written a cheque for the Perry campaign.

“I decided right then,” says Mr Comedy, “that anyone who can go in a matter of minutes from the first impression of being a drug dealer to getting a campaign contribution would go far.” It was the first of nine Texas elections that Mr Perry would win.