Stephen F. Austin State University

Charlie Wilson Oral History Project

The Charlie Wilson Oral History Project

The Launch of the Project

In the spring of 2010, the Liberal and Applied Arts College at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), under the leadership of Dean Brian Murphy, launched the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project directed by Paul J. P. Sandul, Assistant Professor of History. On March 25, 2011, ten individuals who knew Charlie Wilson came together at the SFA campus to participate. Since then, the project has grown to include more than 30 interviews with more than 45 hours of recorded histories. The project, and hence this website, is ongoing as more interviews are currently being conducted and subsequently transcribed.

Who Was Charlie Wilson?

Charles Nesbit Wilson served as United States Representative for the Second Congressional District of Texas, which stretched from Nacogdoches to Beaumont in East Texas, from 1973-1996. Today, largely thanks to the book and Hollywood movie, Charlie Wilson's War, many people only think of Charlie in connection to the Soviet-Afghanistan War because he appropriated funding to the Afghanistan Mujahedeen's (freedom fighters) fight against the Soviet Army in the 1980s. Charlie, however, had a much longer list of accomplishments than this war, many of which greatly improved the lives of East Texans.

Charlie was born and raised in the small East Texas town of Trinity. After graduation from Trinity High School, he briefly attended Sam Houston State University before going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1952. While he worked as a weapons specialist at the Pentagon, Charlie ran for and won his home district's State Representative race in 1961. While representing East Texas as a State Representative from 1961 to 1966 and as a State Senator from 1966 to 1972, Charlie befriended Arthur Temple, Jr., the East Texas timber baron, moved to Lufkin, and managed the Big Tin Barn retail outlet for Temple Industries. He won the Second Congressional District seat in 1972 running on a platform of utility regulation and economic development for East Texas. In Washington, Charlie served on the House Defense and Foreign Affairs Appropriations Subcommittees and used this position to assign monetary aid to his constituents and Cold War allies around the globe.

Charlie did much more than help fund the Soviet-Afghanistan War however. He labored to improve the lives of his constituents and "underdogs." As revealed in the oral histories from those who knew him, Charlie advocated social security, veteran's affairs, environmental issues, and what he called "taking care of the home folk." His is the story of East Texas and, in many ways, the people of East Texas.

These oral histories provide a picture window into not just the life and times of a congressperson, valuable for just that, to be sure, but also a venue for understanding who and what East Texas and East Texans imagined themselves to be through the continuous selection of Charlie to Congress. Certainly a good politician who knew how to get elected, his story is not the whole story of East Texas. But Charlie Wilson is an East Texas icon and hence an East Texas story. He is also a human story. He was made of flesh and bones. We invite you to listen and/or read some of the oral histories that capture some of the nuances of the man known as the "Liberal form Lufkin."

The Oral Histories

Below are links to oral histories from Charlie's family members, friends, coworkers, and more. A brief biography and subject list is immediately provided while clicking on the link will take you to a particular interview site that features a more detailed biography and the audio of the oral history as well as the transcript.

Mission Statement

The Charlie Wilson Oral History Project seeks to both honor and bolster the legacy of the remarkable Representative from East Texas. The East Texas Research Center (ETRC) at the R. W. Steen Library of the Stephen F. Austin State University is the official repository of Charlie Wilson's Congressional Papers. The Project seeks to complement, enhance, and draw more attention to the Representative's archival holdings through the collection, preservation, and diffusion of oral history interviews with those who knew and worked with Charlie Wilson. Oral history interviews help expand the University's archival collection by adding more variety and diversity, particularly through the mixed memories of many of Charlie Wilson's closest friends, colleagues, and staff, as well as by focusing on issues and topics not well covered in existing archival papers. The Project also seeks to move beyond the sensational Hollywood image of Charlie Wilson to deepen an understanding of the Representative's many years of significant service, strength and complexity of character, and veritable impact on American and world history. The oral history interviews bolster the scholarly endeavors of researchers by generating more primary sources while also providing new opportunities for University students to work with primary materials, construct theses, and develop projects utilizing the oral history interviews and archival documents. To further educate the public about Charlie Wilson, spotlight the University's collection, and further work to understand and document East Texas' history generally, the Project will sponsor several products from transcriptions to finding guides, websites, exhibits, and, hopefully, documentaries concerning Charlie Wilson. Likewise, the collection of oral history interviews will be an ongoing task. More generally, the Project and archival collection highlights the role and function of the University's ETRC as the archival repository for East Texas. It will hopefully spark other notable East Texans to donate their materials and collections to the University and signal to both researchers and the general public alike that the University and the ETRC take seriously their leading responsibility to collect, preserve, and honor East Texas memory and history.

It Takes A Village

Pulling off a project of this size and scope requires a lot of help and collaboration. First of all, Dean Brian Murphy conceived of the project and made it happen. It is thanks to him this project ever began. Paul J. P. Sandul has served as the project's director since its inception, overseeing any and everything from contacts to interviews, transcriptions, funding, and more. Texas historian M. Scott Sosebee, as well as the late and revered giant of Texas history Archie P. McDonald, has been at the forefront of conducting interviews and providing historical context and guidance. Moreover, the history department faculty have helped interview as well. The history department has also helped fund travel, the purchase of equipment, and the support of graduate students for transcription. Mark Barringer and the Center for Regional Heritage Research have also played a vital role with providing equipment, web design, and transcription services. So many more people need to be mentioned of course. And we intend no slight if they have not been mentioned here by name. But perhaps the most important of all are the interviewees themselves. Their desire and willingness to be interviewed has made it all possible.

Copyright

The original recordings for all the interviews and full transcripts are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. All copy rights in all the transcripts and audio files, including the right to publish, are reserved to the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. Excerpts up to 1,000 words from the interviews may be quoted for publication without seeking permission as long as the use is non-commercial and properly cited. Requests for permission to quote for other publication should be addressed to the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, 1936 North St., Nacogdoches, TX, 75962. Their online form can be found at http://libweb.sfasu.edu/proser/etrc/services/forms.html.

Sam Allison

Allison is married to Sharon Allison, the sister of Charlie Wilson. Sam and Sharon had a very close relationship with Charlie that included travelling the world with him and serving as his confidants, and support system. Sam currently lives in Waco, Texas with his wife Sharon.

Click here to read interview

Sam W. Allison

Allison is the son of Sam Allison and Sharon Wilson Allison, the sister of Charlie Wilson. Allison and his family, including his sister Elizabeth, had a very close relationship with Wilson. He spent some additional time with his uncle when he worked as a House page in Washington, D.C. in 1985-86 when he was 16-17 years old.

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Sharon Allison

Sharon Allison is the sister of Charlie Wilson, both of whom grew up in Trinity, Texas. Sharon was on the Planned Parenthood board at the local, regional, national, and international levels and is credited with promoting women's rights with her brother Charlie.

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Norma Butler

Butler was born in Bryan, Texas in 1948. She had seven siblings and attended Kemp High School. In 1979, Butler moved to East Texas and shortly thereafter began working for the Deep East Texas Council of Government. Butler then changed jobs, working for Charlie Wilson in his district office as a caseworker for Veterans Affairs.

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Joe William Christie

Christie was born in Rising Star, Eastland County, TX, on June 6, 1933, graduated from the University of Texas Law School in the 1960s and served as a Texas State Senator from El Paso the same years Charlie Wilson served in the Senate (1966-1973). Among other things, he worked for the State Insurance Board, oil and gas businesses, and, notably, traveled to the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan with Wilson.

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Shaun Davis

Davis grew up in Southeast Texas with his parents. He worked for KTRE Television Station and as a forest ranger, a fire fighter, and a musician while living in Nacogdoches, Texas. Through his job as a jingle writer for a small advertising agency and film production company, Davis was able to work on a campaign commercial for Charlie Wilson in 1984. Davis met Wilson in 1986 while working on a commercial campaign. His first job with Wilson's staff was District Assistant working as the campaign bus driver. Davis later became Charlie Wilson's District Director.

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Lorri Donnahoe

Donnahoe was born in 1952 in Kentucky, but grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father and grandparents were interested in politics that influenced her. She moved to Lufkin, TX in 1988 and worked as a caseworker at the Texas Department of Human Services. She began working for Charlie Wilson with Social Security casework in 1993 and until he resigned.

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Ian Foley

Foley worked as a delegate to the state democratic convention in 1968 when Wilson asked him to work for him during the legislative session of 1969. Foley stayed on for six years helping Wilson with policy research, campaigning, arranging speaking engagements, and working with constituents.

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Ray Henderson

Henson was a neighbor of Wilson's in Lufkin, Texas and a long-time supporter.

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Candice Shy Hooper

After meeting Charlie at a luncheon as Congressman J.J. Pickle's guest in 1973, Hooper went on to work for Charlie as his press assistant and later his legislative assistant for energy. She left his office in 1978, and became vice president of a multinational energy company and legislative consultant to a major New York Law firm. When Charlie retired from Congress, he joined the lobbying firm that Candice and her husband founded, and he remained a partner there for more than five years.

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Carol Simons Huddleston

Huddleston was born in Vancouver British Columbia. She lived in Canada for five years before moving to Berkley California. She eventually moved to the East Coast with her sister, who first introduced her to Charlie Wilson in 1976 and she began working for Wilson in 1977.

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Kay Bailey Hutchison

In 1993, Hutchinson became the first woman to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. She first met Charlie while she was a Texas reporter covering the Texas legislature in the 1960s.

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Joanne Herring King

Herring was born Joanne Johnson in Houston, Texas in 1929. Famously noted for her participation in the Houston social scene, the proverbial "socialite," she also hosted a popular local daytime talk show, "The Joanne King Show," from the late 1950s to 1970s. In 1973 she married the prominent Houston oilman Robert Herring, who passed in 1981. Thanks to Robert's business dealings in the Middle East, he influenced Joanne and her eventual efforts to influence the happenings elsewhere in Pakistan and Afghanistan and her work with Charlie Wilson. By the late '70s, in fact, Herring had three volunteer positions in the Middle East - she was honorary consul to Pakistan and honorary consul to Morocco. Her passion for the region pushed her into a relationship with Charlie Wilson.

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Peggy Love

Love began working in Washington D.C. in 1970/71 for the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. From there, she worked several years for Congressman Wayne Hays. Love worked as a caseworker for Charlie Wilson from 1976-1984. Since then, she worked for the Air Force Surgeon General (1984-1989), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (1989-2002), and the Environmental Protection Agency (2002-2009). Love continues to live in northern Virginia and serves as a consultant and lecturer.

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Bill Marshall

Marshall was born in Bryan, Texas in 1946. He went to University of Houston to study engineering. After a year Marshall transferred to Stephen F. Austin State University and graduated with a Bachelor's of Art degree in Political Science and Economics. He started to help campaign for Charlie Wilson while attending Stephen F. Austin State University and, by 1972, Marshall became a district assistant for Charlie Wilson. Marshall campaigned and worked for Wilson until 1977.

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Kathleen Murphy

Murphy came to Washington D.C. when she was just 20 years old. Her marriage to a U.S. Congressman introduced her to the world of congressional politics. It was in this world that she met and became friends with Charlie Wilson. Murphy returned to Washington in 1993, after being asked to work in the office of Tipper Gore as a volunteer. Murphy reconnected with Charlie and he offered her a paid position in his congressional offices. She worked on the House Appropriations Committee and quickly gained experience in Defense and Foreign affairs. In the years following her time with Charlie, Murphy worked for the Clinton Administration and became a Congressional Liaison for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Zvi Rafiah

Rafiah was born and raised in Israel. He attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, majoring in the History of Modern East and also Arab Literature and Language. After serving his compulsory time in the military he joined the Israeli foreign service where he served in Teheran, Iran and Ankara, Turkey. He was then sent to Washington where he was asked to institutionalize the Congressional Liaison Office of the Embassy. While serving in Washington, Rafiah attended Georgetown University where he got his Master's Degree. After serving six years, three more than the average, he retired to Israel and started his own business as a consultant to Israeli businesses in dealing with the United States, mainly in Washington. Rafiah was Wilson primary Israeli contact throughout his Congressional career.

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Charles A. Schnabel, Jr.

Born in 1932, Schnabel graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Bacteriology and a M.A. in Public Administration. Schnabel served the Texas Senate as the Reading Clerk to the Texas House of Representatives. He was promoted to serve as the Secretary of the Senate and held this position for twenty-three years. He began his career with Charlie Wilson in 1985 as his second Administrative Assistant till 1991.

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Charles Simpson

Simpson met Wilson while he was a professor of Political Science at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Simpson had a student in his night class wanted to research Texas State Senator Charlie Wilson and asked to be put in touch and then later to be accompanied to meet Wilson. Wilson later asked Simpson to accompany him to Washington as his Administrative Assistant while he was in Congress. Simpson served as Wilson's A.A. for twelve years.

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Kyle Simpson & Charles Simpson

[Charles Simpson biography listed above] Kyle is the son of Charles Simpson and got to know Charlie Wilson as well, through his father, at an early age. During his relationship with Wilson, Kyle helped to put up campaign signs and Wilson also found him temporary positions in the Folding Room and Document Rooms at the Capitol. Kyle remains in Washington and works as a Lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

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Buddy Temple

Temple is the son of Arthur Temple and was good friends with Charlie Wilson. Temple met Charlie Wilson in 1963 at a Democratic Inaugural Ball and became good friends after moving back to the East Texas area in 1964. Later Temple became a state congressman in Texas and also served on the Railroad Commission.

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Delores Thomas

Thomas was born in Prescott, Arkansas and moved to Texas in her late childhood. Thomas married and moved to East Texas where she and her husband lived in Timpson. She created the R.S.V.P. (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) that covered twelve counties and was managed by the Deep East Texas Council of Government (D.E.P.C.O.G.). Thomas's program worked with elected officials and was employed by D.E.P.C.O.G. It was through R.S.V.P. and D.E.P.C.O.G. that Thomas met and befriended Charlie Wilson. In 1992, Wilson asked her to be his campaign manager. She managed Charlie's last two campaigns in 1992 and 1994.

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Susan Walker

Walker was born in Vernon, Texas as Susan Streit in 1948. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1970 and went to work in the Texas legislature for Charlie Wilson. She married musician Jerry Jeff Walker in 1974, has two children, and, in 1984, became Jerry Jeff's manager.

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Peyton Walters

Walters grew up on a farm in Polk County. He attended Sam Houston State University. Upon graduating, he worked for Shell Oil Company, received his surveying license and later went on to work for a private business in Livingston. Walters was county judge from 1967-1972 and in that position he had occasion to meet Charlie Wilson who was running for state representative of the district including Polk County. The two men became friends and Charlie asked Peyton to work for him. Peyton Walters worked for Charlie from the local office as his district manager, in the mobile office, and, finally, also in Washington D.C. as Wilson's third and last Administrative Assistant.

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Group Interview

(In order of seating and introductions) Peyton Walters, L. G. Moore, Ian Foley, Ray Henson, Charles Schnabel, Delores Thomas, Bill Marshall, Peggy Love, Lorri Donnahoe, and Norma Butler.

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