Word came Tuesday morning about the death of Ross Perot. The colorful Texas billionaire and two-time independent candidate for U.S. president was 89 and had been battling leukemia.

Perot led a quintessential American life. He rose from impoverished beginnings to become a pioneer in the computer field, as founder of Electronic Data Systems Corp.

In 1992, when he ran what appeared to be a Quixotic campaign for president, he ended up with 19 percent of the vote. That was a third-party candidate's best result in 80 years.

Of course, that candidacy had a Center of the Universe (TM) connection. Perot's vice presidential running mate, former U.S. Navy vice admiral James Stockdale, was from the Knox County city of Abingdon.

No doubt Perot met thousands of people in his lifetime of business and public service. His work on behalf of American POWs in Vietnam became legendary.

It also helped earn Perot a 30-year friendship with a Peorian who distinguished himself in serving his country.

Wayne Downing, a 1958 graduate of old Spalding Institute in Peoria, was a four-star U.S. Army general who also was the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush picked Downing to be the point man for counterterrorism.

Downing was 67 when he died, in 2007 in Peoria from cancer complications. The following year, the Peoria international airport was renamed in his memory.

Among the dignitaries who attended the dedication ceremony was Ross Perot. He also was among those who addressed the crowd.

"Patriot. Guardian of our freedom. Hero. Fearless. Modest. Humble and a man of absolute integrity," Perot said that day about Downing.

"Again and again, when his men were in combat, he would call me around the clock with deep concerns about the men who were seriously wounded. Here's a general calling me about privates.

"I wish every big chairman of the board of corporations cared that much about the third-shift factory workers, but it was like each one was his son our daughter."

Perot also helped facilitate the statue of Downing that stands at the entrance to the airport.

"I want to make sure that Wayne is properly honored in his own hometown," Perot said in 2008. "Anything I can do to help, I ought to do. And so I think my little bit will be to get that big monument in his honor."

No doubt Perot will warrant a monument or two himself. In multiple ways, he loomed much larger than his 5-foot-6 height.

But when it came to Downing and Peoria, Perot put his substantial money where his mouth was. And his substantial mouth where his money was.

"I could tell you Wayne Downing stories forever," Perot said. "He was a wonderful man, a great general, great leader."