Harold Simmons, a billionaire Texas businessman and longtime Montecito resident, has died in Dallas at age 82.

Simmons died Saturday at Baylor University Medical Center. The cause of death was not disclosed but his wife, Annette, told the Dallas Morning News that he had been “very sick for the last two weeks.” She said the family had celebrated Christmas at the hospital.

Although Simmons made his fortune in his native Texas, he was a prominent presence in Montecito, where he owned an estate near Westmont College.

When in town, he and his wife could often be found at social functions, and they gave generously to a variety of local philanthropic causes.

In 2010, they donated $1 million to Westmont’s “Bright Hope for Tomorrow” campaign, which helped provide funding for the Adams Center for the Visual Arts, Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics, athletic fields, a new observatory and other master plan improvements. Also in 2010, they gave $500,000 to Unity Shoppe and they recently gave $100,000 to Casa Esperanza, the cash-strapped homeless shelter on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.

“Harold Simmons was a remarkable man,” Westmont President Gayle Beebe told Noozhawk. “He was a wonderful friend of ours and of Westmont’s.

“(My wife) Pam and I loved being with Harold and Annette. One of our favorite memories is a dinner at a private residence where Pam was seated next to Harold. Never a man of many words, Pam asked him questions about Annette and he spoke with incredible warmth and love about his wife.”

Beebe said Simmons “always had his priorities in the right place. He was a staunch defender of personal property rights, loved God and was a great American.”

“We will miss him,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Annette and their entire family.”

Born to two schoolteachers in rural East Texas, Simmons became one of the richest men in the country with interests ranging from chemicals to timber. According to the Harold C. Simmons Foundation website, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a member of the Southwest Conference championship basketball team in 1951.

At age 29, he bought his first drugstore, then went on to add to his growing empire of pharmacies, which included an $18 million buyout of Ward’s Drugstores in 1969. In 1973, he sold his company for $50 million in Eckerd stock. The sale helped finance major investments in publicly traded companies that included chemicals, metals, energy, timber and radioactive waste.

Simmons and his wife gave away a reported $500 million to charity, especially for health care and higher education causes. Through their foundation, they donated $175 million to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to establish a comprehensive cancer center and $50 million to Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.

He was also a major donor to Republican candidates and causes, and called President Barack Obama “the most dangerous American alive” in an interview last year with The Wall Street Journal.

Despite his political preferences, Simmons also made major donations to Planned Parenthood and a gay-rights organization.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday called Simmons “a true Texas giant, rising from humble beginnings and seizing the limitless opportunity for success we so deeply cherish in our great state.”

“His legacy of hard work and giving, particularly to his beloved University of Texas, will live on for generations,” he said.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Bill Macfadyen

William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.