Interviewer's Name: M. Scott Sosebee & Paul J. P. Sandul
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on August 15, 2011 in Sam Allison's home in Waco, Texas.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
The interviewers M. Scott Sosebee and Paul J. P. Sandul are identified as SOSEBEE and SANDUL, respectively. Sam Allison is identified as ALLISON.
SOSEBEE: Once again . . . we're gathered here to do an interview for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project that Stephen F. Austin State University is doing in conjunction with the East Texas Research Center. The project, headed by Dr. Paul Sandul. I am Scott Sosebee, and I am here with Sam Allison who is Charlie Wilson's brother-in-law. And we are in Waco at Sam's home. And this is the second time we've gathered here, so it's like, you know, old reunion days today. Much of what we want to focus on, Sam, a lot that we want to get here, that we have-we've talked a lot-we want to talk a lot about Charlie. But we want to get a personal side of Charlie because . . . I think that's important. I think of all the interviews we've done, we've got a lot about the public Charlie Wilson. But you have insight into the personal Charlie Wilson; how he was as a man, his personality. And so that's a lot of what I want to focus on now. But before we get there, give us some background, your background. Where'd you grow up, Sam?
ALLISON: I grew up in Wichita Falls [Texas].
SOSEBEE: Wichita Falls.
ALLISON: And I went to the University of Texas and that's where Sharon [Wilson's younger sister] and I met.
ALLISON: In the summer of '61. And we were both working under the big top down at the [Texas State] capitol. And she was working down the hall and she typed all day and I was sitting in with the sergeants-at-arms and we didn't do anything. . . .
SOSEBEE: So did you work in the legislature?
ALLISON: . . . Yeah, I was working for Senator . . .
SOSEBEE: Oh, okay.
ALLISON: . . . from up in North Texas. And Sharon was working for Martin [Dies, Jr., D-TX] . . . and I had a paper that needed typing. And I thought, maybe she could type and was that ever a disaster [laughter]. She rode to work every day with a good friend of hers. And one day his car was in the shop and he asked me to take her home. And so, I took her home via Dirty Martin's. And then we had a date the next night and never dated anybody else for the next two years.
SOSEBEE: Well, isn't that something.
ALLISON: And the way I met Charlie was that summer. He was a freshman in the legislature, and he called one Saturday afternoon. See, I had a date with Sharon to go study because I didn't have any money to go do anything else, and so Charlie called and asked us to go waterskiing out on Lake Austin. Sharon, when I picked her up, she said, "Charlie called wanting to go waterskiing but I knew you had to study so I told him we couldn't do it." I said, "Call him back." So she called him back and they were already out skiing. And Charlie said, "We'll pick you up at the dock." And so we got to the dock and we had our swimsuits on and we were ready to roll and no Charlie. And so she said, "I'm tired. I studied all night. So I'm going to take a nap. When you see Charlie, wave him down." I said, "Okay." And I said, "What does Charlie look like?" She said, "Well, just look for stark on skis." And so, in about five minutes I said, "Here comes Charlie." And sure enough it was Charlie and that's where we met [laughter].
SOSEBEE: And was it a immediate friendship?
ALLISON: Yes it was. Sharon had set Charlie up with Jerri Carter who later became his wife. And we double dated a lot in Austin, and had a beer or two together. And we became, I think, very close. In fact, over the years I came to regard Charlie more as a brother than a brother-in-law. And Sharon was, in the later years, the only family, immediate family Charlie had. So we saw him a lot. We talked too; she talked to him nearly every day. I talked to him, in fact, any time there was something happening in the stock market or [the University of] Texas got beat, he'd call me and cuss at me and asked me what I was doing.
SOSEBEE: It's all your fault.
ALLISON: And when they were playing, when Texas was playing a football game, well if he was in Lufkin and if we were here and it was on television, he'd call three or four times during the game. "What do you think? What do you think? What's going on? Why are they doing this?" As if I knew. But anyway, we talked a lot and did a lot of things together, went a lot of places together. And we were living in Houston. I started my career as a banker. And Sharon was teaching school out in Aldine. And we saw a lot of Charlie because he was in Lufkin when he wasn't in Austin. And we went to Trinity nearly every weekend to visit her parents because the fishing was so good up there. And Big Charles [Wilson's father] had a key to nearly every place around there because he was a tax collector. And everybody loved Big Charles. And so he would decide where we were going to go fishing when we would be loading the car. And he and I spent a lot of time fishing in East Texas before and after we got married. And Sharon often wondered whether I fell for her or for him [laughter]. We spent a lot of time up there. So we saw a lot of Charlie.
SANDUL: There's not a lot about Big Charles that I've been able to read about. Can you tell us a little bit about, sort of, what you knew about him, particularly as a son-in-law?
ALLISON: Oh he was wonderful. He and I did, as I said, did a lot of fishing together. We did some hunting together. We took some trips together to go fishing. And any time that there was a problem, Big Charles was there. And, in fact, he came, I was a bank trainee, and he came to Houston one night with some papers for me to sign. And he said, "You got to sign these." And I said, "What am I signing?" He said, "Well, we're buying some land." Said, "You and Charlie and me and another fellow." And I said, "But Big Charles, I can't, I don't, I'm making $500 a month. We have no money." He said, "It's $75 a month and if you can't make the payments I'll make it but you got to do this." So we did it. And that set us off with, we had a good result on that, and he got us into a number of land deals after that. He was kind of a jack-of-all-trades, as a lot of people have to be in small towns. It's just a town of, Sharon said 2,000, but it was more like 1,500 I always thought. But he was the town accountant. He was a tax collector. He had a business. And he just did whatever needed. He helped Wilma [his wife and Wilson's mother] with her flower shop, which was located in their house. And he was always buying little pieces of land to get the timber. And when he had taken his . . . he'd clean it up and sell it. And we did a number of those deals together. I say together, they were his deals. He let us in on them. But he was just a very generous person.
And I only heard him raise his voice once or twice. In his latter days, he had rheumatoid arthritis. He had diabetes. He had heart problems. And so anytime he had medication it offset another medication and he was always having problems with it. And they restricted him to two drinks a day. And so he would come over here and I'd say, "Big Charles, what would you like to drink?" He'd say, "I'll take a scotch and water." And I'd say, "Okay." I'd go mix him a scotch and water. He'd come back and he'd say, "You don't know how to make those things." And he'd pour it out and he'd put a little ice in there and then he'd turn the bottle up and fill it up to about here and then run a little water in it. And then he'd take a big slug out of the bottle and then he'd go in and we'd sit down, we'd have a drink. And then he'd say, "I'm going to have another." So he'd go, makes himself another, and by then he was pretty far along. And Wilma spoke in a very slow, East Texas twang. And she'd come in, she'd said, "I just can't figure daddy out. He just cannot hold his liquor. Two little drinks and look at him." He was a wonderful person.
SOSEBEE: What was his and Charlie's relationship like?
ALLISON: Very close. In fact, Charlie, you know, was almost 6'5". Big Charles was about my size [about 5'11]. And to his dying day, he was Big Charles. And Charlie would call and he'd call people in Trinity even when he was in Congress, he would call and say, "This is Little Charles calling." And he very, very much respected his dad. They were very close.
SOSEBEE: And how about his mother?
ALLISON: His mother was one of a kind. Wilma Wilson. She grew up out in, outside of Trinity in a little, it's not a town, but a little village that I cannot remember the name of it. And she and Big Charles met after he moved to Trinity as a bookkeeper for the Southern Pines Lumber Company. By then she had gone, she went to Southwestern in Georgetown and was, she taught school a little, but then the Depression came along and she and another lady opened a tea shop. She did several things for them to get by in the Depression. And then she was very artistic. And she had a way of drawing artists to her. And she always had, the house always was full of flower decorators or painters or something. And she started a floral shop in . . . their house and was very . . . very successful with it. And she would do weddings in Houston and really got to be well-known. Very artistic.
Fact, our first Christmas in this house, we had a Christmas party. And they brought, she and Big Charles . . . she sent him out to the piney woods, and they brought these pine trees, two little pine trees that they put one on one side of the glass and one on the other and it looked like it was growing in the house. And decorated the whole house with pine boughs and things like this. And we really had a heck of a party. She and Big Charles had worked very hard on it. And . . . she had him make a sleigh and four reindeer out of logs and pieces of pine. And we had that, we put that out every Christmas, gosh, up until probably four or five years ago when the termites finally got the best of it. But that just kind of became Christmas. And she was very artistic. And a very one of a kind person. Very loveable. Very much a Democrat. And very much a Charlie person. But, see, Sharon tells the story of when [Adlai] Stevenson was running against Ike [Dwight D. Eisenhower; they faced off in both 1952 and 1956]. Well, she wore her Stevenson button everywhere and Big Charles wore his "I Like Ike" button. It got a little tense at dinner at times. But he later came around too.
SOSEBEE: Was she the political one? The one that maybe got him interested in politics, or . . .
ALLISON: Well Charlie tells the story about his dog getting killed and that getting him into politics. Wilma, as I understand it, was always active. She was as long as I knew her. . . . And Big Charles, Sharon said, was, really wasn't very political . . . but she was always involved in Democratic politics as far as I know.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. What was, and we're trying to, you know, kind of an idea of what shapes Charlie as a person, and you would have inside, give us just a little idea of what Trinity was like, as a community, as a town, probably growing up.
ALLISON: Well growing up I wouldn't know.
ALLISON: But after I was in college, well, after my, before my senior, Sharon and I met between my junior and senior years at Texas, and went over there quite a lot after that. And it was a small town that, it had been a sawmill town and the southern pines sold out to Temple [Industries] as an international paper. And so the town was kinda dried up from what it had been. But there were people like Big Charles that decided they were going to stay and make a life and then they did. And there was a lot of, seemed to me like, barter going on. You know, you sow me up and I'll do your taxes and this type of thing. And the doctor there, Dr. Barnes, said that up until a few years before I met him that he got paid a lot of times in chickens and eggs and things like this. So it was very much a small, East Texas town where everybody knew, in fact, when there, when Sharon and I first started dating, my first summer, well the rest of that summer after summer school was out, I went back to Wichita Falls and she went to Trinity. In fact I took her, and, which my parents didn't like. And their number, phone number was 3-9, and I would, by then the zip co--, area codes, and all this had come out and I would have to go through the operator to get them. I'd said, "I'm going to need Trinity, TX, for 3-9 to Sharon Wilson." "There's no such number." I said, "3-9 in Trinity. Call the operator." And if it's on Saturday afternoon, well Sharon and her dad might of been gone fishing or something and the operator would come on and said, "3-9 for Sharon Wilson" and the operator said, "She ain't there. She's down at . . . with Big Charles," or something like this. It was just a town where everybody knew . . .
SOSEBEE: Mayberry, USA.
ALLISON: That's right, where everybody knew everybody and looked out for each other. It was a great little town.
SOSEBEE: How do you think that shaped Charlie, I mean, a lot of times we think, you know, again, go back to this, you know, Good Time Charlie, Kennedy Center, he was a fine dresser. I mean, all those kind[s] of [things] associated with an urban person. But there's a lot of Trinity in him with[out] a doubt.
ALLISON: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: So, maybe, let us know how you think growing up in Trinity affected Charlie personally.
ALLISON: I think he very much was in the culture of knowing, people knowing each other and being involved with each other that you lose a lot in the anonymity of the big city. And that's why he wanted to go back to Lufkin, was that he knew everybody and they knew him. And I think it gave him a populist-type approach to things. And he had seen poverty growing up and he understood it and abhorred it. And one of the things that really shaped him to get into politics, I mean he tells the story about the dog and all that and that did put it along, he was always active locally. But he worked in John Kennedy's campaign when he was in the navy, when he was at the Pentagon. And just became enamored with John Kennedy and that's when he came home on leave and ran for state legislature, and I read later, illegally.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, which he wasn't supposed to do that.
ALLISON: He said he didn't know that at the time.
SOSEBEE: You think that's true?
ALLISON: I have no idea . . . . But I think Kennedy really projected him to start running for office. I don't know whether he would've before that.
SOSEBEE: Is that right. . . . Is that right?
ALLISON: But I didn't know him at that time.
ALLISON: I didn't meet him until he was a freshman in the legislature.
SANDUL: You know, I was listening to the old interview, the interview that we did with you all, what two months ago now? And it was great. I was wondering if you could react to something that Sharon said. She aid, after describing you and Charlie's wonderful relationship as brothers, more than brother-in-laws, she dropped in a line, but you two wouldn't "cut each other any slack."
ALLISON: That's right.
SANDUL: What was that? I mean, can you talk a little bit about that?
ALLISON: It's hard not to, not to become a little bit crude, but . . .
SANDUL: We can always edit.
ALISON: No, it's . . . If Charlie said, if I said something Charlie didn't like, well, I mean, he let me know, vice versa. Or we were always putting jabs at each other. And the other would come right back.
SANDUL: Now was this just, it was, friends . . .
ALLISON: Oh yeah.
SANDUL: . . . picking on each other?
ALLISON: Yeah, yeah, just . . . he would say, "Allison, you going fishing?" I'd say, "Yeah." "Where you going to catch them, right here in the mouth?" And I'd say, "Yeah, right there in the mouth and it's going to hurt a lot." And just things like this [laughter].
SANDUL: Okay. And there was another thing I was kind of curious: is Sharon had said to a point when we're asking, really about the "Liberal from Lufkin" moniker, and really trying to understand, sort of, Charlie's political philosophy. And her response was, "Well, Sam really talked to him more about the political philosophy than I ever did" . . . so, I was wondering if you could maybe speak to this "Liberal from Lufkin" moniker. This, you know, is he really this, and liberal's a term that's changed, a liberal Texas Democrat.
ALLISON: Yeah, today [he'd] probably be moderate. But, I think, that philosophy really was implanted by his mother. And she . . .
SANDUL: What was his political philosophy? What would you call it?
ALLISON: Well he always sided with . . . the poor, with the needy, with the people who were down. And that was something, I think, that was just bred into him and to Sharon by her mother and her father. And her mother always told them to keep their backs straight and be for the underdog. And I think . . . Charlie kept his back straight and he was generally for the underdog. And I think that had a lot to do with, a whole lot to do with, it. And his philosophy, he was . . . you couldn't really label Charlie. On certain things he was very much a hawk and very, very much a, you know, "We got to have a strong military," "We got to do this, we got to do that." But when it came to social issues, he was very, very liberal by just about any standard. That came, I think, from growing up in Trinity, Texas under the influence of his mother and father. And he read incessantly. All up to his dying day, he read incessantly. And he was quite a military historian. And he also, he read, he read everything [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill wrote. In fact Sam, our son, has Churchill's complete works that Charlie gave him. Sam got his library. He's in the process of putting it together and y'all might want to go by there and see it, I don't know. But it's, it's, he's still got twenty or thirty books, twenty or thirty boxes of books that he hasn't gotten to yet.
SOSEBEE: That's something else; something else.
ALLISON: It's quite a collection.
ALLISON: You can see Charlie when you see the books . . . because part of his, big part of his, life was reading.
ALLISON: And he read; he didn't read a lot of novels. He read history, he read biographical things, and he was fascinated with military history.
SANDUL: How much of, say, the politics or the military history or whatever, how much of that would Charlie bring to the family table? Was that something he brought often or was it more about . . .
ALLISON: He talked about . . .
SANDUL: . . . that's out there, this is family time, or…
ALLISON: He would talk about what we would ask him what he was reading and he would give me books that he was interested in for Christmas.
ALLISON: Most of them I didn't read, I gave to Sam. But our son really . . . got interested in the military history from Charlie. And he's quite a student, that's why Charlie gave him his library, and his library at home. And so you can ask him a lot of questions about that.
ALLISON: And they used to, they used to argue over battles. And Charlie would correct Sam, and Sam would correct him back. And Sam would just read the book, it'd been two years ago when Charlie read it and Sam would go get the book and read it to him, or Charlie would go get the book and read it to Sam. They had quite a relationship. And Sam, and he can tell you about this, but Sam spent his junior year in high school in Washington as a page. And he and Charlie had a lot of escapades together at that point, and some of them I know about, some I don't, I'm sure.
SOSEBEE: We'll see if he tells us any that we can repeat.
SANDUL: Well, maybe not . . .
ALLISON: And Charlie, as you know, never had children. And he and Jerri, his first wife, were Elizabeth's godparents and then Sam's godparents [Allison's children]. And they both took it very seriously. Charlie said the only problem he had with being a godparent was when he stood up in the church and had to swear off sin. He said he had his fingers crossed. And it was kind of hard to do.
SOSEBEE: I think a lot of people did that.
ALLISON: But he and Jerri; Jerri is still in our life. And she keeps up with the kids. She, every time there's a birthday, Christmas, a marriage, a graduation, anything special for them, she calls or sends a present or something. And they always talk about Aunt Jerri and they want to go to Washington to see Aunt Jerri. And she's very much a part of our family. And she and Charlie were great friends all after their divorce and all of this. So, and Charlie took his, well he took his grand-parenting kind of over-the-top sometimes. When Elizabeth was, I guess she was a sophomore in college, well, he got her to be a cherry blossom princess at the cherry blossom festival.* So we went up there for a week; ten suitcases. And we, all of them were staying at this one hotel. I don't remember, somewhere out along the, in the forest there. And we had asked for a big car. And so they had us [in] about a ten-year-old Cadillac, and with the big old fins on the back and all this, because it had a big trunk. And so we pulled up to the hotel and then they came . . . two doormen were standing there and when we pulled up in that 'ole long Cadillac and opened the trunk he looked at the other and said, "Here's another one of them queens" [laughter].
Because they had been unloading them all day. But after that, that lasted nearly a week, and at the end, Charlie had a party at the National Archives for this, complete with the Apache Belles** that had come in and had two violinists standing by the Constitution playing "The Impossible Dream" [laughter].
[*Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.]
[**The Tyler Junior College Apache Belles of Tyler, Texas have been entertaining audiences from the football field to the performance stage since 1947 with their precision dance and head-turning production numbers. To learn more, visit their website at http://www.apachebelles.com.]
ALLISON: And had a band and . . .
SANDUL: "Thanks Uncle Charlie."
ALLISON: Oh, I know. He never did anything halfway. And had the flowers brought in from the national botanical garden. And it was quite something. He probably wouldn't want people to know about it after, while he was in office. But he had all our friends, a lot of people had flown in. And it was quite an affair. And all that was for Elizabeth. Then when she was in law school, well she clerked for a law firm in Washington one summer. And Charlie just took her everywhere, to the White House, to the Fourth of July celebration there, and they went out to dinner two or three times a week. And if she had a problem, she called him and he'd call, if he didn't see her that day he'd call her and make sure everything was okay. And he kept close tabs. He was very doting; and he was very doting of Sam. And he was very doting of our grandchildren.
SOSEBEE: Well that says a lot about personality. I mean, I don't have any children, and I have nieces and nephews, but I don't do that. So that says a lot about who he was as well.
ALLISON: He was very family oriented. He was. . . . When he was in Austin and then in Washington well he, as long as Wilma and Charles were alive and having Christmas, well we'd all be there and he would always come in. And when Elizabeth got to be about two, we had moved to Waco and we built this house and we announced that Christmas was in Waco from now on because the kids had formed their own traditions. And the first Christmas it didn't go down too well with her parents or my parents. Mine didn't come at all and hers showed up on Christmas Eve. And after that, there was never any problem, Christmas was always here. Charlie always came, flew in from Washington. And he complained about having to come, but he always came. And he was very much family oriented. And Sharon was his family.
After they died, like when he was knighted over in Pakistan for his work in Afghanistan, well it had been quite a . . . between him and the Pakistani government because Benazir Bhutto had just become the prime minister and she wasn't Charlie's biggest fan. And so they had said, you know, "You come over here on military day" and that's where they bring out all the tanks and the flyover and everything to show everybody how strong they are, "And we'll have your ceremony and all this." And so when she came into power, well she said, "No we're not going to do that. We'll just send this thing to Washington and he can pick it up at the embassy." And so they sent that word and he said, "Well just tell them to keep the God dam thing." Excuse me, you can edit that. And so, so they explained to her about the appropriations committee and all of this. And so then she said, "Well, okay. We'll have you. We'll have him come over. Invite him over for it." And he said, "Well I'm not going without my family." He said, "The only family I have are my sister and brother-in-law." And so the government of Pakistan flew us over there too. And we spent about ten days in Pakistan and about a week in Egypt, maybe not quite that much. And some time in London with him. And just had a really, we saw, we traveled a way we would never travel because we stayed in the American Embassy and we flew around in Pakistani army helicopters and things like this. It was quite an affair. And then his getting his medal was quite an affair.
ALLISON: It was, he was always doing something like that . . .
SOSEBEE: Sometimes, and this is, you know, besides being family; Y'all were close, so you're close friends as well, and you're both men, and so sometimes men will talk more openly with other men about what hey think, what they do. Did he talk to you about issues that were important to him? Things he hoped to accomplish when he was in the legislature and the congress?
ALLISON: He and I mostly would debate points. And generally he would go on and do what he was going to do anyway. But, yeah, we talked quite a bit about, I would generally bring it up, you know, "What do you think about this? What do you think about that?" And he'd say, "Well what do you think?" So I'd say, "Well I asked first." And he said, "But I'm asking you." I said, "Okay." So I'd tell him. Then he'd say, "Well that's not really the way it is" and he would explain to me his position, which was generally very well thought through.
SANDUL: Is there any one of those that you can recall that ever sort of stood out?
ALLISON: There's one but I'm not going to bring it up. We had a lot of discussions on the military and the makeup of the military and whether we needed all the things we were doing and all the money we were spending. And he was always very much the, "We got to have it" and "We're going to get it," and "You pacifists can get out of the way." And he would be very open with his explaining his views and explaining what he was. . . . But he didn't come down here to talk politics. And we'd go out to the farm and we'd shoot guns and we would, in those days, drink beer, that's right before he dried out. And he would go; he went to one of the openings of one of our stores with me. And we just had a lot of fun together.
SOSEBEE: You played a role in the, of course you know he's very famous, one of the first members of Congress, of course, with the RV, the traveling office and the mobile congressional office. You played a role in that. Tell us about that.
ALLISON: I owned it under a congressional lease. Fact, we had two of them. We had one and then another. Lost money on both of them. Fact, I never saw the first one.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: And the second one, I had heart surgery in Houston in '82 and he sent it down and then I came home in it. And that's the only time I ever saw it. That was Pine Tree. It's Pine Tree 1 and Pine Tree 2.
SOSEBEE: Pine Tree 1, Pine Tree 2.
SANDUL: I didn't know that. That's good to know.
ALLISON: They were made over in Nacogdoches at Foretravel.
ALLISON: And, of course, they had the latest and greatest of everything, or at least I thought so.
SOSEBEE: Was that, I mean, this was Charlie's idea? How did . . .
ALLISON: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: Did he convince you, or did he have to convince you?
ALLISON: No, we always supported him financially and I saw it as a way to support him financially that would be legal and we could do more than just a thousand dollars.
ALLISON: So we knew going in that, or I knew going in, that we weren't going to get rich off of that. And I talked to my attorneys to make sure it was legal and they had to look it up . . . . "By golly it is" [laughter]. But now when he ran against, what was her name that ran against him?
SANDUL: Donna Peterson? [Wilson ran against Donna Petersen, a Republican from Orange, TX, in 1990, 1992, and 1994; he won all three times.]
ALLISON: Donna Peterson. Second time she ran. She put out a brochure that, Sharon doesn't like me talking about this, but she put out a brochure that showed a picture of Pine Tree 2, and said, "And this is owned by his sister and brother-in-law through a bankrupt company they have in Waco, TX." The only thing that pissed me off was "bankrupt." And, then, next thing we knew, FBI came over and deposed us. They said, "We don't [think] there's anything to this but we have to question you. This thing says you're making hundreds of thousands of dollars out of this, taxpayer's money." I said, "Well if we are, it isn't getting to Waco." I showed them receipts and checks and all this. And they said, "We knew there was nothing to" because I lost money every month we had it. And then when we sold it we got to lose big money.
SOSEBEE: [Laughs] Yeah, those depreciate pretty fast, don't they?
ALLISON: That's right, that's right. And . . . we're pleased to do it. But that race really got, that was the last race that, oh gosh names are getting away from me, the big guru that ran all of Bush's campaigns.
SOSEBEE: Karl Rove.*
[*Karl Rove is a Republican political consultant and strategist. He is most notably credited with the 1994 and 1998 Texas gubernatorial victories of George W. Bush, as well as Bush's 2000 and 2004 successful presidential campaigns. Indeed, in his 2004 victory speech, Bush referred to Rove as "the Architect." Rove has also been credited for the successful campaigns of former Attorney General John Ashcroft (1994 U.S. Senate election), Texas Governor Bill Clements (1986 Texas gubernatorial election), Senator John Cornyn (2002 U.S. Senate election), Texas Governor Rick Perry (1990 Texas Agriculture Commission election), and Phil Gramm (1982 U.S. House and 1984 U.S. Senate elections). Rove also served as senior adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush. It is likely that Charlie Wilson was the last, and one of the few ever, to defeat a Rove-backed candidate in Donna Peterson.]
SANDUL: Karl Rove.
ALLISON: Karl Rove. That's the last one he ran. He lost.
SANDUL: He ran, yeah, Peterson.
ALLISON: Ran two for her and lost both of them against Charlie. That was the last one he lost.
SOSEBEE: That's too bad . . .
SANDUL: So Charlie's the only one who could beat Rove.
SOSEBEE: I guess so . . .
ALLISON: He could, he, you know, you were asking about his philosophy, he felt like if he always told the truth to his constituents that, as long as he did his job and that, as he said "took care of the home folks," well, you know, he felt like he was on pretty good ground. And he would say, "Yeah, I did it. I don't know why I did it. The devil made me do it." "But what about the new hospital down the street?" Or, "Did you get social security check on time?" And the RVs that he used, he never went around in them much. His staff would schedule stops at the courthouses in the different counties. And they'd put the schedule out. And people with problems could come and talk to them and they'd help them with their problems. And when they would arrive, Charlie said that folks would be lined around the blocks sometimes. It was mostly about social security or Medicare. This made a lot of fans. His domino tournaments, which became quite boisterous, really kept the old folks on his side.
SOSEBEE: I don't guess I've heard about the domino tournaments.
ALLISON: Oh, oh. Charlie . . .
SOSEBEE: You'll have to tell us about that.
ALLISON: Charlie started a domino tournament, I think he was still in the state senate when he started it, where he would have, he would bring people in from the rest homes and started out. They had a room, the big meeting room at the hotel, motel there. And he had the dominos made here in Waco by Puremco. And they, the double blank had Charlie Wilson on it.
SOSEBEE: You're not a real Texan if don't have dominos by Puremco in Waco.
ALLISON: They were the only domino manufacturer in country. They're not now, they're in business, but everything's made in Hong Kong or somewhere. But by the time, he'd bring them in and the winning team would get a prize. And then when he got to Washington, well they'd get a trip to Washington. And by then they were bringing them in by the busloads in from around . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: They would rent the, what do they call it, the municipal center there in . . .
SOSEBEE: In Lufkin?
ALLISON: In Lufkin.
SOSEBEE: The Pitser Center or there's the Garrison Center.
ALLISON: Whatever it is, it's the big . . .
SOSEBEE: One of those. Well, one's an expo center. I think it's the Garrison Center, yeah.
ALLISON: It's the big one, and they would rent that and they finally had to start having it for two weekends. And the old folks would, you know, they got a trip to Washington. They'd take them to Houston in an RV and put them on a plane. . . . They'd wind up, it got so serious they'd throw dominos at each other and stand up and turn the tables over and just, just white-headed little old ladies [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That is great. I know I never heard that before. The domino tournament.
ALLISON: Oh, gosh. And then several people tried to copy it. Our congressman here tried to copy it and it just busted [laughter].
ALLISON: He was always coming up with unique . . .
SOSEBEE: So, but the RV was really his idea?
SOSEBEE: That's an innovation that's unbelievable.
ALLISON: Well, several have those now around the country.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. Getting in . . . and there's some things that I really like to know more about when after he left congress. And one you mentioned earlier but there is, you know, the decision to leave Washington and move back to Lufkin. A lot of congressmen don't do that. You said he did it because he wanted to be back here. Was that a hard decision for him?
ALLISON: Not for him.
SOSEBEE: He have to convince Barbara [Wilson's second wife] though?
ALLISON: Yeah. He had another reason. He said he wanted to retire from politics. And as long as in Washington, he had been lobbying since he got out. And as long as he was in Washington, well he said his clients just wouldn't let him retire, they were always calling him, always wanting something. And so he said he had to get out of Washington. So they came back to Lufkin, which he really liked. And that's where he spent his last days.
SOSEBEE: And you, I know we asked this before . . . you didn't think there was any remorse, regret, I don't know, almost a, where, you know, almost regret I guess is the right word, about leaving Congress?
ALLISON: He was. He said that Congress had become so contentious ever since Newt Gingrich came in [as Speaker of the House; often referred to as the Gingrich or Republican Revolution*], said it just got so contentious that he wanted to retire two or three terms before he did, but the hot check deal came up and he said that he wasn't going to let them think they had run him off with that. And then Peterson got in the act and he said he sure as hell wasn't going to let them think she had run him off. And so he stayed two or three terms longer than he wanted to. And he said it just got to where it wasn't enjoyable. Said when he got there, initially he could, he could go across the aisle and talk to people and they could, they would argue and they'd go out to dinner and they would settle things. But said you'd get on the elevator with the new bunch and you didn't know whether they were going to crawl on you or eat you. And, said it just wasn't any fun anymore, wasn't enjoyable.
[*The Gingrich Revolution, or Republican Revolution, refers to Republican Party success in the 1994 midterm elections. Republicans gained 54 new seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House at this point, was considered the leader of the so-called revolution and was a Congressman from Georgia (from 1979-1999). Large Republican gains were made in state houses too as Republicans also won 12 gubernatorial seats and 472 legislative seats, taking control of 20 state legislatures away from Democrats. Prior to this, Republicans had not held the majority of governorships since 1972 and, more impressively, this was the first time in 50 years that Republicans controlled a majority of state legislatures. Republicans would hold their majority control of the House till the midterm elections in 2006. Their minority status did not last long, however, as the GOP regained the House majority in the 2010 midterm elections.]
SOSEBEE: Yeah. And he was, sounds like a person who, if it wasn't fun, wasn't enjoyable, he wasn't interested in doing it anymore. Before he got into . . . Congress he was in the legislature. And speak [to that] some, because we have some gaps and stuff. I mean, you know, [Texas] legislature's a part-time job. So talk about Charlie, what he did, his business, and when he was a legislator.
ALLISON: When he was in the legislature, when I met him he was working for Temple [Lumber Company] and he ran their Big Tin Barn operation.* And that was when it was one store over in Lufkin. And he, I think he started that and he ran it. And then he was supervising the building of, some building of houses over in suburbs of Austin. And that, he kept very busy with Temple. And he and Arthur Temple** were very close all his life, and Buddy . . .
[*The Big Tin Barn began as a retail lumber yard belonging to Temple Lumber Company in 1951 and supplied building materials to Diboll and surrounding East Texan area customers interested in building homes and businesses. In May 1963 the name of the retail lumberyard was changed to Great Texas Lumber Company. In 1965 construction began on a new building located on Highway 59 north of Diboll and was completely operational by 1966. At that time, the lumberyard became known as Great Texas Lumbers Big Tin Barn. Charlie Wilson served as general manager of the yard in the 1960s. (Source: Lois Cooper, "Big Tin Barn: The Early Years," Diboll Free Press, January 24, 2007, available online at the Diboll Free Press website: http://www.dibollfreepress.com/news/2007-01-24/news/news02.html).]
[**Arthur Temple, Jr., b. 1920, d. 2006, often called "Big Pop" by Wilson and others, especially as Charlie was close friends with Arthur's son Buddy, was a businessman and philanthropist. He was born in Texarkana, Arkansas, the son of Arthur Temple, Sr. and Katherine Robson (Sage) Temple. His grandfather, T. L. L. Temple, founded the Southern Pine Lumber Company, and Arthur Jr. grew up in the lumber business. After leaving the University of Texas in 1938 he worked as a bookkeeper at a company lumber yard at Paris and in 1941 became manager of another company lumber yard at Lufkin, making it one of the company's most profitable. He eventually became executive vice president and general manager of Southern Pine Lumber Company in 1948, and in 1951, following the death of his father, president. Following Time Inc.'s 1973 acquisition of Temple Industries, Temple became vice chairman of the media conglomerate, and after Time Inc. spun off Temple-Inland in 1984 Temple served as board chairman of that company until 1991 and emeritus board chairman until his retirement in 1994. For more on Temple, see Austin American-Statesman, April 13, 2006; Lufkin Daily News, April 12 and 13, 2006; The Pine Bough, December 2006, pp. 10-18; Vertical Files, The History Center, Diboll, TX; and Who's Who in America, 1988-89.]
SOSEBEE: Did he enjoy doing that? Or was it just, "I've got to"?
ALLISON: I don't know. He was very good at it. And they wanted him to stay. He'd probably wound up running Temple. But, Buddy wouldn't like me to say that, but . . .
SOSEBEE: No, but that's okay.
ALLISON: But he loved Charlie, though, he really did.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. He did.
ALLISON: Arthur [Temple] was one of his sponsors all his career.
SOSEBEE: What about that relationship between he and Arthur and how that got started? Because I mean it was obviously more than an employee, more than a friend.
ALLISON: Much more.
SOSEBEE: It was almost like Charlie was one of his sons.
ALLISON: Almost. It was very close to that.
SOSEBEE: So how did that, how did you see that getting started and blossoming?
ALLISON: Well, it was already started when I got into the picture. And Charlie always . . . Arthur was one of his mentors. And he, you know, was a large financial supporter and Charlie always had a job if he needed a job. And Arthur would do anything for Charlie. And when Big Charles got sick, well he was always calling and sending presents and this type of thing. And then when he died and then Wilma died, well he built a library in Trinity for them in their name and was always doing something like that. I had a heart attack in 1982. And I didn't know this, but Sharon said he, first day, he called about five or six times . . .
SOSBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: . . . wanting to know how I was. And one time Sharon and I were in, it was our first trip after Elizabeth was born, and we were, we left her in Trinity and we went down to Acapulco and the Temples happened to be there. Charlie had told them we were there and they traced us down. They owned in La Palia at that time, and they had us out there and just treated us like family. And, just really nice person.
SOSEBEE: He and [Arthur Temple's son] Buddy*, of course, were very close.
[*Buddy Temple was born in Texarkana, Arkansas and grew up in Lufkin, Texas. A 1960 graduate of The Lawrenceville School, he attended the University of Texas at Austin from 1960 to 1961, when he joined the U.S. Army and served until 1963. After working in various businesses, including Temple Industries, from 1964 to 1966, he ran Exeter Investment Company as Vice-President, President, and Chairman from 1968 to 1982, and 1986 to 2002. Buddy began his public service when he was elected member of The Texas House of Representatives for four terms, 1973 to 1981. Running for Governor of Texas in 1982, he served on the Texas Railroad Commission and as Chairman, from 1981 to 1986. Buddy serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Temple-Inland, Inc., Chairman of the Board of First Bank & Trust, East Texas, and Chairman of the Board of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation. Buddy is the past Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.]
ALLISON: Very close.
SOSEBEE: And that was almost like they were brothers as much. That was a unique relationship.
ALLISON: And they'd fuss, and they'd . . . [laughter] it wasn't always this, you know, buddy-buddy. It was, they would fuss [laughter]. They would kind of fall out, and in thirty minutes they were back.
SOSEBEE: You know, one of the things we do, you know, have to ask about, and I've talked to a lot of people and we talked about last time we were here, is, again I think it's one of these almost false images of Charlie that has become almost public, and that is part of the Good Time Charlie, I guess, and that's the drinking . . . but do you think, and Sharon said this last time we were here, that Charlie was not a big drinker until some of these things with Afghanistan, it seemed . . . [to] stress him a lot. Do you think that's part of what . . .
ALLISON: No. . . . He had his drinking problems a long time. It just got worse and worse. By the time he quit, if we wanted to talk to him it had to be in the morning. And he just quit cold turkey one day.
SOSEBEE: Is that what it was? He just said, "I'm not going to have anymore"?
ALLISON: Well he had tried. He'd gone to doctors, he'd done things. And he said that he'd just been thinking about it a long time. He said he went out to dinner with Jim Lair* and Jim Lair said he needed to see his doctor, said "he made me quit drinking" and Charlie had a session with him. I don't know what went on, Charlie never had a drink again.
[*Admiral James "Jim" Lair was born in Los Angeles, California. He enlisted in the Marine Corps reserve in 1957 and then entered the Navy through the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and earned his Wings and Commission in December 1961. He next attended the Naval Postgraduate School and graduated in June 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations. Flying the A-4 Skyhawk and A-7 Corsair II, Admiral Lair made two Combat Cruises aboard the USS Ticonderoga, and USS Kitty Hawk flying over 200 Combat Missions over Vietnam. He then attended the School of Command and Staff at the Naval War College and received a MS in International Relations from the George Washington University. He then made a third Combat Cruise aboard the USS Coral Sea and participated in the evacuation of South Vietnam and was one of the leaders in the recovery of the Merchant Ship Mayaguez. He commanded Attack Squadron 146, Carrier Air Wing Six during the Lebanon Crisis, the USS Caloosahatchee and the Aircraft Carrier USS America (CV66). Following his tour as Chief of Staff for Commander US Sixth Fleet he was promoted to Rear Admiral. He then commanded Carrier Group Two and deployed to the Mediterranean during the Bosnian Crisis. Rear Admiral Lair's active duty tour was as Director of Operations, Headquarters, US European Command, Stuttgart, Germany. He was responsible for the Air Land and Air Drop Resupply Missions in Bosnia and enforcement of the No Fly Zone over Northern Iraq. Admiral Lair has over 8,000 flight hours and 1,400 Carrier Landings. His personal awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, 4 Legions of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Award, 2 Individual Air Medals, 22 Strike Flight Air Medals and 4 Navy Commendation Medals with the Combat "V" and various campaign awards. Retiring in 1995, he then came to Texas and worked for Lockheed Martin on the Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. For five years he was the Manager of the Flight Safety Learning Center at the DFW Airport. He is currently employed by the department of Homeland Security as the Acting Federal Security Director of the DFW Airport.]
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: And then he'd been dry for about eleven, twelve years.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, he was, yeah, before he died, it was quite a while, yeah.
ALLISON: But it was quite interesting, he kept a full bar at the house.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: Because anybody that came in, he wanted to be entertaining. And I'd go over there and he'd say, "What are you drinking? Scotch?" I'd say, "Yeah," and he'd go mix me a scotch. He'd have a diet coke or iced tea, loved iced tea.
SOSEBEE: Well that's a requirement for being an East Texan, too, isn't it?
ALLISON: Well, I grew up in North Texas and it's a requirement there.
SOSEBEE: Well, I grew up in West Texas and I like my iced tea too, and all that, so.
SANDUL: Now I had . . . I was wondering. You know, did Charlie ever talk with you, because, unfortunately, and this is probably attached to the Karl Rove kind of people out in the world today. But after 9/11, those other people who would offer critiques of Charlie and what happened in Afghanistan, and then the rise of, of course, then later on the Taliban. How did he react to those kind of critics? Did he talk to you about . . .
ALLISON: Yeah, he did, talked to us at some length. After the piece on 60 Minutes, well Sharon called him and fussed at him for saying, said, "You know those Russian soldiers are somebody's sons and they're very young. And for you to make a statement like you did of . . .
SANDUL: Killing Russians.
ALLIOSN: . . . "wanting to kill them as painfully as possible, you don't say anymore." He said, "Little sister, you're right." And he didn't. But he said that the only regret with what he did was that when it was over, when the Russians were gone, that he let them shout him down in Washington over giving aid to Afghanistan.
ALLISON: He said they needed a Marshall-type plan* and we probably wouldn't have these problems today. I don't know whether that's right or not because of the travel situation. But he said we made a terrible mistake just turning around, declaring it over, and walking off.
[*In March 1947 President Harry S. Truman gave a speech to Congress about what became known as the "Truman Doctrine," i.e., support for fighting against communist expansion and regimes. That summer, General George C. Marshall, Truman's Secretary of State, announced details of what became known as the Marshall Plan, or the European Recovery Program (ERP). Marshall offered American financial aid for European economic recovery, especially to stave off Soviet and communist influence in a region still recovering from war and to help bolster the regional economy so that Western Europe could more robustly participate in a global economy. On April 3, 1948, Truman signed the first appropriation bill authorizing $5.3 billion the first year of the ERP. By 1951 industrial production in Western Europe had successfully grown 30 per cent since the beginning of World War II. The program came to an end on December 31, 1951. In its three year existence, the ERP spent almost $12.5 billion. Hence, the analogy to the Marshall Plan here refers to a desire to stabilize and strengthen Afghanistan by investing capital to insure development and growth, particularly for favorable geo-political gain. Charlie Wilson, and others, openly lamented this did not occur following Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and detrimentally so.]
SANDUL: Mm-hmm. So that's usually was the . . .
ALLISON: And he said he let them shout him down and he shouldn't. He said he should of fought it with his last . . .
ALLISON: That's, I think, the only regret he had.
SOSEBEE: And I've never been able to nail this down and I think it's just, it's fantastical that this didn't happen. You know that given the central part of Afghanistan after 9/11, and we're having a war there, this was a man that had a lot of knowledge of the region.
SANDUL: Expert knowledge of the region.
SOSEBEE: The administration [of President George W. Bush] did not reach out to him in some sort of advisory role or something?
ALLISON: He was a lobbyist and he was a lobbyist for Pakistan.
ALLISON: So, from that standpoint they did. And I don't know what, Charlie was always, always had connections to the CIA, and he's the only, as they call civilians, or was at the time, that had gotten their special award where they put their, put the star on the wall.
ALLISON: And so I, he never talked about that. He never talked about those relationships. And we, when we went to Pakistan with him, well Gust Avrakotos [the CIA agent Wilson worked with] was along and he was CIA. And everywhere we went, we met CIA, "The Company," they were with "The Company"; they were with the agriculture department or whatever. And so I never understood his, I didn't know whether he was CIA or . . . but he just, he felt very strongly about knocking the Russians out of Pakistan, or Afghanistan, I'm sorry.
SOSEBEE: Nobody could figure out whether, you know, because I mean he would've had a lot of knowledge about what we probably needed to do in war and to win people over and I can't ever find anybody that knows whether or not the Bush administration had ever asked him for advice of any kind.
ALLISON: If they did he never told me.
SOSEBEE: We've talked to no one who says that they knew that whether or not . . .
ALLISON: Charlie could keep secrets.
SANDUL: Well obviously.
ALLISON: No, I mean I'm serious. He didn't tell you something he didn't want you to know. He didn't let things slip out. And we never really pried him for any of this, but, and wouldn't today . . . so anything he volunteered, well we'd listen to and ask questions about, but he volunteered very little.
SOSEBEE: You'd said that you didn't know a whole lot about the Afghanistan situation when it was going on. So he didn't . . .
ALLISON: We didn't know anything.
SOSEBEE: You didn't know what was happening or . . .
ALLISON: We went over there with him to Pakistan, spent a week or ten days with him in Pakistan. And we went around and everywhere we went here comes CIA and they'd all go in the little room and we'd sit outside and they'd have, we called them big boy meeting [laughter]. At this embassy, well the ambassador would stand up and say, well, "Sam, you and Sharon are excused." And that meant we went somewhere else and they'd go in the little room and lock the door. And he never spoke what went on, we never asked. We knew something was happening, obviously, but we didn't know what. And didn't have a clue, and we should've because we rode back from Pakistan to Egypt on a CIA plane, which turned out, it had no markings and they were all with The Company, and it was a C130 that had taken, I guess stingers over there and they were coming home.
SOSEBEE: At least it wasn't mules.
ALLISON: No it wasn't mules.
SANDUL: Yeah, there you go. . . . Of five decades, really, of knowing Charlie, I know this is an impossible question probably to answer, but do you have a favorite memory just about you and Charlie that you remember, that you're willing to share?
ALLISON: There's so many.
ALLISON: No, it's just kind of conglomeration, we would sit and we'd visit and talk and joke and cry and everything, all afternoon or all day.
ALLISON: And he never called me anything but "Allison." "Allison do this, Allison . . ." [laughter].
SANDUL: Okay, so he didn't address you as Sam, it was Allison.
ALLISON: No. He did occasionally, but it was usually Allison. He'd say "Allison." Sharon became "little sister." She had always been "snukes."
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: Growing up that's what she, that's what he called her. He called her that a lot even after, after, a little after he got out of Congress. But he got more and more to calling her "little sister." Say, "Well, little sister."
SANDUL: "Little sister, Allison, let's go!"
ALLISON: And he told her, you know, she was very, still is, very active in family planning.
ALLISON: So she would talk to him about their issues. And he'd say, "Well I'm going to vote for your issues, little sister, but you leave the NRA [National Rifle Association] out because if you want me there to vote for your issues, don't pick on me."
SOSEBEE: That's the art of compromise isn't it? You even have to do it with family.
ALLISON: Oh, she learned not to do that. And he had 100 per cent record on her issues.
SOSEBEE: He was with that, so. Well we have kept you for about an hour this time and I bet the tape's about to run out so this is kind of a natural break, is that correct?
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah it's perfect.
ALLISON: Why don't we go grab some lunch?
SOSEBEE: Let's, we can go get lunch, that'll be perfect. And then . . .
ALLISON: I'm going to call Sam [Allison's son, also named Sam] when we finish lunch and he can meet us back over here.
SOSEBEE: Where does, I guess, if we asked last time I didn't retain it. Where does he work?
ALLISON: He works for a company called First Sealord, which is a surety bonding company, bonding jobs and things like this. And he is their sales arm for Texas.
SOSEBEE: I see. Well that'll keep you busy.
ALLISON: Yeah . . . he's the underwriter and also brings . . . kicking, screaming. So he kind of has to put on another hat when he does the underwriting because that's the guy who figures out all the . . .
ALLISON: And he's done very, very well. In fact he worked for four years with a company here that was doing that on a very small scale.
ALLISON: He went looking for jobs and these people just sought him out.
SOSEBEE: And their headquarters are here in Waco?
ALLISON: No. He's here. Their headquarters are in Philadelphia.
SOSEBEE: Oh, so, okay, so . . .
ALLISON: He's their Texas office.
SOSEBEE: Okay, I see.
ALLISON: They told him to get an office anywhere so he stayed in Waco. First they didn't like it, then they start seeing the difference in the operating cost, and . . .
SOSEBEE: I bet so.
ALLISON: And they came down here and saw how centrally located it is, and it's not…and they were worried when they saw the price….
SOSEBEE: This isn't northeast real estate is it?
ALLISON: And when they saw the price, they sent an engineer, they have another branch down in Austin that does a totally different thing, and they have an engineering office. And they sent a guy up here to take pictures to make sure he had, they're conscious of their appearance, and they wanted to make sure he hadn't put them in a metal building or something.
SOSEBEE: Isn't that something? Would everything work, Paul?
SANDUL: Yeah I was just . . .
SOSEBEE: We don't have to do that all over again?
ALLISON: I sure hope you're going to . . .
SANDUL: Actually, I'm about 90 percent done with the past interview and we'll be able to send that all over to you to take a look at, probably within the next week or two. Definitely. Let me stop this.