When Ron Bliss entered Baylor Law School in 1974 he was 31, older than most of his peers. Although many of them expressed angst about upcoming tests, Bliss shared a different point of view. "I'd tell them, 'Don't worry about if you fail -- no one's going to kill you. Just take it again,'" he recalls. "There are not a lot of things in this life that matter, but those things that do matter, matter greatly."
Not many have a better perspective on life's priorities than Bliss, who spent six and a half years during his 20s in a Vietnam prison camp in Hanoi. A 1964 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he entered pilot training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, where he met his future wife, Charlene. The two married at Nellis AFB in Nevada and welcomed their first son. In summer 1966, Bliss, then a lieutenant, was sent to Southeast Asia.
A short time later, during a bombing run outside of Hanoi in northern Vietnam, Bliss' plane went down. On Sept. 4, he was taken prisoner by the Vietnamese. Bliss and others in the prison were tortured routinely by their captors for tactical information. In March 1973, shortly after the signing of the Paris Peace Accord, they were released from the infamous prison known as the "Hanoi Hilton."
Although his POW experiences were horrific, Bliss derived valuable lessons from that time. "I learned that all we have is each other. When you get a group working together in the direst of circumstances, you can prevail, live and keep your self-respect and sense of honor. If life is bigger than you, it will break you."
He was awarded multiple military honors for his service: two Silver Stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars with "V" Device, the Presidential Unit Citation, two Purple Hearts, an Air Medal and a POW Medal.
After returning to the States, Bliss traveled to Temple, Texas, to join his family and received some advice from Cullen Smith, BBA '48, JD '50: "He asked me if I'd ever considered becoming a lawyer. He said he thought I'd be good at it and recommended Baylor," Bliss says. "I didn't even know what the LSAT was at that time." But after the years in Hanoi, Bliss says he "never wanted to put my life in someone else's hands again. I had been locked up for a long time, and I wanted to get out and do something with my own hands and my own head."
With the support of his wife and two sons, Bliss applied and was accepted to Baylor Law School the summer after his release. Twenty-seven months later, he graduated. "Having had the chance to ponder the meaning of life," Bliss says of his imprisonment, "I hoped I could do some good."
Since graduating in 1976, he has practiced intellectual property law as a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston, protecting trademarks, patents and trade secrets from infringement and managing negotiations -- a specialization that capitalizes on the undergraduate degree in engineering sciences he earned in the Air Force and on his law degree. When he started managing the Intellectual Property and Technology Department at the firm in 1987, there were seven employees. When he stepped down as manager at the end of 2001, there were more than 120.
At work, he is known for his stamina and humor. "I remind everyone that we live in 'Disneyland,'" he says of life in America. "This life has been given to us by someone greater than us -- we do not have the right to squander it. We can make what we want to of it -- beauty, compassion."
In 2000, American Hope Foundation established and presented him with the Ronald G. Bliss Award, which honors individuals who promote the ideals and character that have made the United States excel: courage, willpower and compassion. Bliss also was one of several men featured as heroes on "The American Experience -- Return With Honor," a 1998 PBS documentary on North Vietnam POWs, which was released on video in 2000.
"I've been shown a lot of love, honor and respect by people across the country," Bliss says. He returns the charity by being involved in civic and nonprofit organizations. He is a board member of the Houston Center Club, a charity-supporting organization, and he speaks frequently in professional circles and for charities on legal matters, foreign policy and motivational topics. Additionally, as a member of Business Executives for National Security, he and other military leaders, CEOs and former members of Congress advise the Pentagon, Congress and the White House on homeland security issues. He also has served as a member and chair of the Texas Aerospace Commission.
Bliss' experiences have shown him the failures of humanity, but also its potential. "We fall short, sin, but to get up and move on is to be human. Being human is probably the noblest thing there is on this earth," he says. "Anyone can live a good life when it's free of adversity. If a person will exercise character and take the blows, you've done as well as you can."