Interviewer's Name: Jeff Bremer
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 25, 2011, at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
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.
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.
The interviewer Jeff Bremer is identified as BREMER. Ray Henson is identified as HENSON.
BREMER: Hello, this is Jeff Bremer. It is Friday, March 25, 2011 and I'm interviewing Ray Henson for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project sponsored by and held at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The Charlie Wilson Oral History Project seeks to both honor and bolster the legacy of Charlie Wilson, through oral history interviews with those who knew him and worked with him and add and diversify the official collection already held at the University's archives [Stephen F. Austin State University's East Texas Research Center] and to deepen an understanding of Charlie Wilson's many years of significant service, strength and complexity of character, and his impact on Texas, American, and World History. And I'm here with Ray Henson. Ray was a neighbor of Charlie's down in Lufkin. And, so when did you first meet Charlie, Ray?
HENSON: I first met him probably in 1965 when he ran for the state senate the first time. That was the first time I'd ever met Charlie. He was elected to the House of Representatives while I was living in Orange so I never got to know him when he first became a politician, but I did get to know him in 1965.
BREMER: Okay, so you knew him for more than forty years?
HENSON: Yes, yes.
BREMER: And . . . he was your neighbor the last ten years or so . . .
HENSON: Yeah, I'm trying to determine what year. It was either 2000 or 2001. He bought the house behind me, which is separated. I'm immediately on the golf course, and then there's a creek, and then Charlie had the house. When I heard, first heard he bought it, I said, "You don't have to tell me that it was Charlie Wilson because it had a big back porch and a back yard that was rough, never been mowed and a creek behind it and his first house in Lufkin was identical to that. . . . So, I knew he had bought the house when I heard that.
BREMER: How well did you know him? How often did you talk to him?
HENSON: I got to know him a whole lot better after he [moved next door]. I say a whole lot better. I was closer, nearer, and more frequently visited with him than when he was a Congressman. I would say about 2001. But . . . I'd come home from playing golf, I'd stop by and visit with him, he and his lovely wife, Barbara, and it was just a pleasurable time. Of course . . . I knew him as a Congressman, a State Senator and a [State] Congressman, and he did me a favor that I'll never forget. That is, I told him, really, I'm kidding him, I said, "You know Charlie the first time, my first job was delivering the Houston Chronicle when I was thirteen years old and I delivered a famous Congressman's paper to him in Lufkin, his name was Martin Dies, Sr." [Dies was elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-first Congress and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1909-March 3, 1919)]. And here I am. I'd go get him a Houston Chronicle every morning and take it to Charlie. I said, "Here I am winding up my career as a delivery boy to a famous Congressman." He got a kick out of that. Ironic, he called me and said, "Henson I've got to pay you for getting that Chronicle." I said, "No, you're not going to pay me." He said, "Well it costs something to go down there." And I said, "Well I'm going down for one, for myself every morning, and I'll get you one, and besides you couldn't [pay me back] if I brought you a paper every day for the rest of your life. I couldn't repay you for what you've done for me." And then, little did I know, that was about thirty days prior to him passing away, which was a sad day in my life.
BREMER: Yes, my wife, who is not from here, was physically upset when he passed away. She had wanted to meet him when he was supposed to come to SFA [Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas].
HENSON: He loved people to come see him, visit with him. A lot of people were, you know, afraid to go and afraid they didn't interfere or something. But he didn't have anything else to do so he enjoyed people visiting. L. G. Moore,* I don't know if you met him or not, he and I used to go, we'd go by there quite often and visit with him and tell old stories and embellish some of them. And my grandkids were very, very fond of him. He was very fond of them. My grandson, Charlie, who went to the memorial service for Wilson, he cried; eleven years old. [*L. G. Moore, son of L. L. Moore, was born about 1936. He attended Central Heights High School and Harvard Labor Management School and married Jerry Box of Nacogdoches, Texas. In 1972, while serving as a legislative representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers, he was chosen for the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission. The purpose of the commission was to study the need for constitutional change and to report recommendations to the Constitutional Convention (63rd Legislature). L. G. Moore became chairman of the Education Committee and was regional director of the International Union of Operating Engineers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Among other things, Moore was Charlie's labor contact and supporter. Moore's archival collection is also housed at the East Texas Research Center at Stephen F. Austin State University.]
BREMER: So, he died in 2010 and you had known him for about ten years before that. So did he talk much about what was going on in the world after 9/11 [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.] and our involvement in Afghanistan; tying into his work in Afghanistan?
HENSON: No he didn't. We really didn't discuss things like that. We discussed personal things and I figured he'd tell me what he wanted me to know. I'm sure he knows some things that nobody else knew, but he never talked very much about it. He would talk about his conversations with other Congressmen, some retired and some not, and that's about it.
BREMER: So, what stories did he tell you or what can you tell us?
HENSON: Most of them were humorous. Of course Charlie was very humorous. He could make a very serious situation and look at the bright side of it and he got to telling a story about Jim Wright, former Speaker of the House [from 1987-1989; also member of the U.S. House from 1955-1989, elected as a Democrat from Texas' 12th district]. [Wright], who was retired in Fort Worth, [Texas], had called Charlie all the time. And there was a story ran in the news about Charlie, said about how appreciative his constituents were of him, what they've done for him. And Jim Wright said, called him, he said, he kinda had a lisp and he had cancer, throat cancer, and he, so he talked kind of funny and Charlie would imitate him, and what it amounted to, he said, "Let me tell you how much they appreciate me up here in my district that they named a road after me and said it ends at a porno store and a wreckin yard." He went through all it took to get the Trinity River studied for dredging. He said, "For what they spent, they could've concreted the thing." Charlie could tell it in a light way and just really enjoy it. Great story teller.
BREMER: He's not here to tell us his stories, so what stories can you tell us about him that would teach us about his character; that you maybe can fill in the gap for us. What do you think might be important for posterity?
HENSON: I really don't know, I don't because he never . . . you talking about some of the things about the Afghanistan war?
BREMER: Not even that, maybe what he talked about in East Texas or maybe what he loved most about East Texas.
HENSON: Well he talked a lot about his young life and Trinity, Texas was a small town. I always compare Charlie with Lyndon Johnson [former President of the United States and long-term Congressman] because they were very much the same. Both born poor and in a small town. [Johnson was born in Stonewall, TX about 70 miles east of Austin.] And Charlie's famous saying was that he was born and raised in Trinity [in East Texas] and we were, I believe he said, 28% black and 100% poor [Henson laughs]. His mother was a great influence on him. She was. That's where he got any of his liberalism. He got from his mother. His father was a fine fellow, but his mother was his maker.
BREMER: Okay, that's interesting, usually we think of boys and young men as having been influenced by their father. So in what ways do you think his mom might have influenced him other than maybe liberalism?
HENSON: Of course when Charlie was growing up, being a liberal in Trinity, Texas wasn't a very popular thing to be [Henson chuckles]. In fact over there being anything wasn't very popular to be. It was. And it was very unique that a woman of her character came from Trinity, but she did and she saw to it that Charlie was always on the right side of every issue even in school and I'm sure she probably sanctioned his burning the ground-pouring gasoline on the grass of the mayor. I don't know if you've heard that story.
BREMER: Yeah, but tell me that story.
HENSON: Charlie was . . . had a dog that he dearly loved. He was fourteen years old and he had a dog that he dearly loved and the dog would get in his neighbor's [Charles Hazard; who actually ran for city council as an incumbent rather than for mayor] yard and scratch up the flower bed, what have you, and the guy ground up some glass and gave it to that dog and Charlie watched him die and he said that's when I fell in love with America. He got his mother's car and worked the black section of town during the mayor's race and beat the mayor so that's when he learned. Charlie would go out and drive the black people who didn't, most of them didn't have cars back then, and they would, he'd drive them to the poles and they beat him.
BREMER: That story's in the movie with Tom Hanks. [Charlie Wilson's War was released in 2007 and based on the book of the same name by George Crile in 2003.]
HENSON: It is, that's right, it sure is, yeah.
BREMER: And it seemed almost so spectacular I wasn't sure it was true but . . .
HENSON: Well, I know it's true because he told me that personally. Another funny story about Charlie is . . . one of his early campaigns. I don't know whether for senate or congress. He was big on campaigning in nursing homes back then and he walks into this nursing home, I was reminded of it when [Archie] McDonald [long-time distinguished full professor of history at SFA and former long-time director of the East Texas Historical Association] was talking, his booming voice, walks into a nursing home, there's a guy wearing a wheelchair like this up against a wall. Charlie walks over there, swaggers as he couldn't do very well, and says "Hi, do you know who I am?" and the guy looked at him and said, "No, but if you'll go right up there to that desk they can tell you." [Henson and Bremer laugh.]
BREMER: That's a great story. So, he worked on mobilizing black voters, did he also try to make sure that the elderly got to go vote as well?
HENSON: Definitely, this was after he was in office. I mean, he'd campaign in nursing homes. Of course, there was, back then . . . you could take ballots to nursing homes or they could come, anyhow there was a pretty good source of votes at nursing homes and of course Arthur Temple* [prominent East Texas businessman] owned an interest in about thirteen of them so that really helped. [*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.]
BREMER: So what was Arthur Temple a supporter of Charlie Wilson?
HENSON: Was he? Hell, we might not even have a Charlie if it wasn't for Arthur Temple.
HENSON: He loved Arthur. Well Arthur just took him in. Of course I wasn't living here at the time, but I knew Arthur Temple. He took Charlie in and got him elected.
BREMER: Elected as state senator?
HENSON: State? No, State Representative is the title, our State Representative. [Wilson served in the Texas State Legislature from 1961 to 1965 in the State House and 1966 to 1972 in the State Senate.] In fact, Charlie worked for him [Arthur Temple, Jr.] when he was a State Representative and a Senator running what was called the Big Tin Barn in Diboll [Texas].* And Charlie didn't know how to run a lumber yard [Henson laughs] but he was the manager, so, yeah and Buddy Temple [Arthur Jr., son] was a very close friend of [Wilson's]. In fact, I shouldn't say this, but Arthur liked Charlie because Charlie kinda got Buddy out of his shell and out into the . . . Buddy was originally a pretty shy child. And Charlie did that for him and Arthur remembered it. He supported him from day one. [*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 Lumber's 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).]
BREMER: So, Buddy and Arthur were . . .
HENSON: Buddy was Arthur's son.
HENSON: Yup, sorry. Arthur Temple, Jr.
BREMER: Okay, so they were big political supporters, they were democratic supporters?
HENSON: Oh . . .
BREMER: In East Texas?
HENSON: You bet, yup.
BREMER: So this is back before Texas went Republican.
HENSON: Republican didn't have a chance back then. He . . . I keep referring to little insignificant things. I think of one time I called Charlie and, but this will show you how responsive he is, I called . . . his office and said, "Next time Charlie comes in town I need to talk to him." And [they said], "Well he's in town today you can talk to him now." I said, "Oh, okay." And I said, "Charlie, my son's eighth-grade history class, would you be interested in speaking to them next time you're in town?" He said, "I can do it today, come pick me up." So I went to pick him up at the federal building in Lufkin, North Raguet, and he comes walking down the hall, swaggering down the hall and I look up and he's got a AK 47 [Avtomat Kalashnikova, firearm] and a AR 15 [ArmaLite Model 15, firearm] holding them like this. He said, "Are you ready?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Here," and handed me the AK 47 or the AR 15, I don't remember which, started out the door right into the street to my truck. Boy I grabbed that, I covered it up, you know it was a federal offense to have one of those things. I said, "Charlie this is against the law." "Ah don't worry about it." Well it turns out he was taking them to a gun dealer. They had been presented to him by the Afghanistan and the Pakistanian governments unbeknown to me, none of us knew what was going on, and he took them down there and showed them to this right wing gun dealer that we had there in town and wound up giving them to A&M University [Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas] there still over at A&M but it scared the living daylights out of me.
BREMER: Did you think he was going to take those over to the school.
HENSON: No, no he intended to take them down to the . . . he left them with that gun dealer for a while. The guy, named Jim Holsenback, who was actually one of Charlie's opponents at one time, ran against Charlie at one time but Charlie could always get along with the other side very well. And that's what made him so successful.
BREMER: So in what ways can you tell us about how he worked with his political opponents?
HENSON: Oh . . . I can remember whenever . . . there were two Republican Senators in the State Senate. I can't remember the other. His name was . . . he was from Houston. [Likely Henry Grover, Republican State Senator from Houston from 1967-1973]. And he was all by himself, but he became very important on votes because, back then, even the democrats, whether half of them were against something, other half, just a matter who had one extra vote. And Charlie worked with him and got a lot of the Texas [Public] Utility Commission [regulatory agency created in 1975], he helped on that. He worked with Republicans on that and I'm sure in the . . . money appropriation for the Afghanistan war he had to work very closely with several Republicans and had their support.
BREMER: You had mentioned several times that he had a swagger to him.
HENSON: Oh, yeah.
BREMER: Does that include his whole personality or just the way he walked?
HENSON: No, it's just the way he was. I mean, he'd talk about it if you've read his book or a statement whenever Tom Hanks was going to do his part, he said, "I'm going to have to go out there and teach him how to swagger." And it was his natural gait, he's long legged, lanky, and he, it was just his natural walk. And he was proud of it.
BREMER: You made a comparison between Lyndon Johnson and Charlie Wilson, saying they both grew up poor and went on to be extremely successful. Are there any other comparisons between those two great Texas politicians?
HENSON: I mainly alluded to their personality, their campaigning, their ability to work with opponents or work with the opposing party, and Lyndon just happened to come along at a time when "Good Time Charlie" things got overlooked and Charlie didn't. I've always said he would have probably been Vice President if he had not have gotten into a lot of trouble that he got into. You know, "Good time Charlie" things, which, but he always justified that by saying, "My constituents don't vote for me for my personal life, they vote for what I do for them." And he did things for them. For instance in my particular case, of course I would have voted for him anyhow, he . . . I had a younger brother [Kent] who was a Navy career man, spent eight years as an enlisted man and saw that he wasn't going to be able to make chief petty officer in time to retire. He got a chance to go to OCS [Officer Candidate School], which he did, and graduated, got promoted twice, but then on the third time he got looked at, he had to start competing with academy graduates and college graduates, which Kent was neither. And . . . he got passed over two times and he got a notice that he was out of the Navy at fourteen and half years with $15,000 severance pay. And it devastated me, and, so, I called Charlie, asked him what I wanted him to do and to make a long story short, six months later my younger brother had his orders in his hand, he got transferred to a reserve unit in, somewhere in Washington, so he could finish his last two and a half years and retire.
BREMER: So Charlie took good care . . .
HENSON: Charlie, I've got the documentation then. I wish I'd have brought it with me but, step by step, what was going on. It took about six months and his staff, a guy named Larry Murphy. Now Charlie was always good at hiring staff, he, they knew what to do. And he got it reversed and got him put back in. Of course Larry was a retired naval officer himself. One of his opponents one time came by my office about five o'clock one afternoon, nice little guy, I think he was a dentist from down around Vidor, [Texas] and he, republican, he stepped into my office, introduced himself, and asked me to vote for him. I said, "Sit down, you look like you're tired, I know you've been campaigning, I appreciate you coming by but first off, I'm a democrat and second is if my brother was running for congress I would consider, against Charlie, Id consider voting for him but then I would vote for Charlie." He said, "Well thank you for being so honest about it." And he went on. That's just the way I felt and, cause Charlie took care of everything you asked him to.
BREMER: So he had lots of loyalty through his constituents?
HENSON: Uh-huh, you bet, you betcha. Today I'm not sure; you know they ran Donna Peterson from Vidor; she was a retired naval officer. Against her, I guess I think three times (1990, 1992, and 1994), and I mean it was just a blood bath. And each time it'd wear him down a little bit more and I think Charlie saw the handwriting on the wall, probably in the whole district was going to change and it is now. Of course, it doesn't exist like it was back then. He saw that coming and decided that he wanted to get him a retirement, something to get some money in the bank.
BREMER: You said those three elections were blood baths?
HENSON: Oh, they were dirty, yeah dirty, dirty politics. She [Donna Peterson] would you know, just dwell upon his DWI's [Driving While Intoxicated] or whatever, alleged cocaine use, just anything that she could chip away at him.
BREMER: You had mentioned that, the fact he was "Good Time Charlie" and had some ethical lapses might have cost him the chance to be Vice President?
HENSON: Well, I think he would definitely have been a [U.S.] Senator . . . . And from there who knows . . . his time frame, his age, and whoever the candidate was. He could have been a VP cause he was a southern democrat conservative and liberal and many with the middle, moderate. Charlie would always, he'd be on the right side of any civil issue, whether it be females, minorities, he just did the right thing on it.
BREMER: Did he ever say that he had considered running for Senate?
HENSON: He didn't have to . . . He just always, you got the impression that it was going to be his one of these days.
BREMER: So he had ambitions but his own personal flaws got in the way of running?
HENSON: I think it did. I think, I really do think it did cause everybody . . . oh he had, I'm trying to think what . . . some of them . . . well of course he had a DUI [Driving Under the Influence; similar to DWI] when he was a State Senator in Austin. . . . In other words I told him after watching his movie I stopped by and visited with him one day and I said, "You know Charlie, you taught me how to drink Scotch, I learned from you." [Henson chuckles.] I said," But at best I remember the movie had a fifth of Mccallum, Mccallum Scotch and I said, "You didn't drink Mccallum, you drank Cutty Sark." He said, "Well I turned Swiss after I got to Washington, [D.C.] I couldn't afford it." [Henson and Bremer laugh.]
BREMER: So what kind of things did he do that got him the nickname "Good Time Charlie"? I mean in the movie he is portrayed as . . .
HENSON: Alleged cocaine use, drinking, heavy drinking, and, as he said, "When I hit that car on the Washington bridge" [the Key Bridge near Georgetown on August 11, 1983]. He didn't deny it; he'd laugh about it, well not laugh but put it in a light manner. Just "Good Time" Charlie loved to have a good time. Now, he always had a reputation for womanizing and I, to this day I don't, can't think of a single one that he womanized with. I'm talking about in his early years. He had a beautiful, wonderful wife, Jerry. She was just . . . as I told him in his second wife [Barbara], I said, "Wilson, I thought you over married once but you over married twice." [Henson laughs.] And he agreed.
BREMER: Do you know why he drank so much? Was it something that ran in the family?
HENSON: He liked it, he loved to drink.
BREMER: He loved it, okay.
HENSON: Yeah, he could, he could knock out a fifth of scotch [Henson chuckles] in a night.
BREMER: In a night?
HENSON: Oh yeah. . . . yeah, yeah he loved scotch.
BREMER: Did he drink anything else other than scotch? I mean did he, was he, did he drink whiskey, did he drink rum.
HENSON: No, the only thing I ever saw him drink was scotch. I don't think he ever drank, as far as I know, he didn't. Oh, he might have drunk margaritas just for socializing, but for real drinking he's a scotch man.
BREMER: Did he ever plan on running for Senate? Did he ever, was there a time he was set on it?
HENSON: You talking about for the United States Senate?
BREMER: Yeah, United States Senate.
HENSON: No, I think he just, he might have put out the rumor and let someone else suggest it. It was just a kind of thing that everybody assumed. How they got that I don't know. I'm talking about everybody that was within the party or within a circle of his friends, a lot of people on the street. Of course he was, at that time he didn't have any . . . issues he had beat, when he won the role in the first congress race, he made right-wing enemies then that he never made up with. A good friend of mine in Lufkin, Oscar Brookshire, who owned the Brookshires [the name of a chain of grocery stores], one of the Brookshire heirs, he hated Charlie. He liked him personally but he hated his politics and he was a big Dowdy supporter. John Dowdy was the Congressman ahead of Charlie. And Charlie wouldn't ever run against, he couldn't, he couldn't of beat him and . . . low and behold, John Dowdy got caught taking a five-thousand dollar bribe in the Atlanta airport. And boy, when that happened, Charlie was, he was running for U.S. Representative and he ran against Dowdy's wife. Well, she couldn't have gotten elected dog catcher and he beat her, just drug her. Well that's when he developed all his right-wing opposition.
BREMER: Did they hate him because of his sympathies for women's rights and minority rights?
HENSON: They just didn't like him because he was running against Mrs. Dowdy, their idol. And old Dowdy was a, he was just an old conservative democrat from Athens, Texas that, he couldn't beat him. He just, he took care of social security recipients and they were a major voter. He never got the black vote as we called it back then. Charlie had that from day one and his, I guess his . . . end road to that was the fact that he took a liking to a guy named Inez Tims, who was a local.* I, we'll call him a leader, he never, he didn't ever hold any office. He was on the Voter's League but Inez was a true Christian, wouldn't drink, wouldn't smoke. And Charlie took a liking, he took a liking to Charlie, and that's when Charlie got the black vote every time, because of Inez and, of course, once he got in office, well he voted his constituents . . . and that was just one phase of his life. In fact Charlie spoke at Inez's funeral; he was a good friend of mine too. [*Inez Tims, 1909-1989, was an East Texan civil rights hero who was involved in several issues that concerned local minorities. He was instrumental in having voting procedures changed to allow better representation for minorities. He filed suit against the City of Lufkin and Angelina County in 1977 to establish single-member voting districts. He also helped bring desegregation to local schools, and worked for better housing for minorities. He served as a district aide to Charles Wilson in which his main job was working with minorities and meeting with black groups.]
BREMER: Inez was from Lufkin or Nacogdoches?
HENSON: Yes he was from Lufkin.
BREMER: Okay. What else can you tell me about him and his importance for . . . ?
HENSON: Well, he was an idol of mine. In fact, I can contribute my removal of racial bias, whatever I had at the time, to Inez. Inez didn't tell you he was a Christian, he showed you, and I can scarcely talk about him without tearing up. He was good to me, he was a friend of mine, he sent me a lot of business, plus he was just a great guy . . . and Charlie recognized that. Charlie felt the same way I did. In fact, Inez retired from the foundry. He worked Lufkin foundry forty-two years, never missed a day. And he led the first [local civil rights movement], I won't say campaign or what have you. Back then Lufkin foundry, if you were black you never rose past a role of janitor. Well, he led the first wave of opposition against it and had it removed, got it removed and he was offered a promotion. He said, "No." Before he'd said no and he'd promote the ones that did because their . . . "Promote me, it's going to look like you're buying me off, which you're not." But he got promoted later on anyhow and worked there forty-two years and Charlie recognized that for what it was . . .
BREMER: What was he, how did he mobilize the black supporters with Charlie?
HENSON: Through the church.
BREMER: Through church, okay.
HENSON: Church. He was a very very devout Christian. He and another black minister there named Reverend A. D. Thomas were, and I can't remember who the other member of the, called the Voter's League. They were back in the thirties . . . led Angelina County into for blacks being able to vote, they couldn't even vote in 1938 in Angelina County. Well he got that through mobilization of the church members, just every, all citizens of the community, and organized and got it done.
BREMER: Are there any other important supporters like Inez or A. D. Thomas that you can tell us about that helped Charlie?
HENSON: Not to the extent that they did. Are you talking about Anglo or Black?
BREMER: Anglo, black, male, female . . .
HENSON: Almost every, every elected official . . . county, city level all helped Charlie because he was from Lufkin and they liked him and they did a good job. He had their support and, but as far as individuals that were, I'd have to really stop and think. Right off hand I cant put any names in.
BREMER: No problem, so Charlie had political ambitions that could never be realized because he was "Good Time Charlie."
HENSON: That's my opinion.
BREMER: Okay. Did he ever express regret for not having held a higher office?
HENSON: No, no he never did. He was always tickled with what he had. I watched that movie of him and it's almost like, course I like the documentary [The True Story of Charlie Wilson (2008; The History Channel)]. Have you seen the documentary?
BREMER: No I haven't.
HENSON: It's on some channel . . . But anyhow, he's interviewed after he retired and . . . but I can shut my eyes and listen to Tom Hanks and swear its Charlie.
BREMER: Really, really?
BREMER: So Tom Hanks did a good job? Did Tom Hanks meet Charlie preparing for the role?
HENSON: Oh yeah, Charlie went out there . . . two or three times before, right after he signed the deal with the book and then he was an, acted as a sultan on the movie and the filming doesn't bother him. Thought of something a while ago that made me think . . . I can't remember what it was now I'm sorry, my memory's gone.
BREMER: No problem. So he had strong black support, support of the elderly and did the average…
HENSON: AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations].
BREMER: Okay, labor support, okay. So did the average white person in East Texas have, supporter of Charlie, or were they more conservative?
HENSON: Oh yeah, yeah. He had, in fact I think his first election he got 80%.
HENSON: And, of course, second term fell off and he got down to where he was just barely getting by. In fact, I can remember maybe the first time Donna Peterson ran against him [in 1990] and I was at a friend's house and Charlie came by and it was, it was election day, and he was deeply worried. I mean, you could see worry on his face that he might, that he was losing because he wasn't doing real good . . . up around Athens and down his old territory. He wasn't doing good around Woodville and he was . . . and turns out he only got 52%, which now is a whopping victory. Anybody that gets 52 percent . . .
BREMER: That would have been in the nineties?
HENSON: No, this was . . . late seventies, early eighties [Wilson ran against Donna Petersen in 1990, 1992, and 1994; he won all three times].
BREMER: Okay, Okay. So . . .
HENSON: He had been in Washington, you talking about this particular incident?
HENSON: He had been, he was on about his third term, so it would have been about '79, '80, somewhere along there.
BREMER: Okay, so was that maybe when Reagan was running and it was a very strong Republican tide in the eighties?
HENSON: Come to think of it, it probably, it probably was when Reagan ran the first, he ran in '80 didn't he?
BREMER: Yeah, '80.
HENSON: Yeah, yeah that, that could have been some of it.
BREMER: So Charlie struggled as the country, as the country was more Republican nationally and . . .
HENSON: Yeah, no he . . . he had somebody in every county that supported him and were either contributors or loyal Democrats and he stayed in close touch with them and consequently his pulse was near the people and he could overcome that opposition by doing that.
BREMER: Fighting these tough re-election battles, did they eventually wear him down and part of what made him convinced to . . .
HENSON: Well, unbeknown to us he had . . . degenerative heart disease and that just took its toll on him and it took him a little longer to quit drinking than it should have.
BREMER: When did he finally quit drinking?
HENSON: I want to say '95, '96 . . . about his last term in office.
BREMER: Okay, about the same time as he left politics, okay.
HENSON: In fact I saw him one morning, we'd, a bunch of us gathered for breakfast every morning at a restaurant there and this was after he had retired and I hadn't heard the stories about how bad Charlie's health was and I looked over and he was sitting in a booth and I thought he had a bad hangover. I mean his face was just, lips were swollen, his face was swollen and red face and Buddy Temple came in about that time after Charlie had left and I said, "Buddy, I saw Charlie over there awhile ago and he had a hell of a hangover." He said, "No, he was at my house last night until eleven o'clock and he wasn't drinking." But then it dawned on me later that his health condition was, his heart was causing that, and sure enough soon after that he started being treated and I, they finally told him, "You've got one choice, you can drink or die, which ever one you wanna do." I know what I thought of while ago. . . . I don't know if you remember . . . when this doctor went up to his farm up near Bastrop and there were some farmhands working that killed him, he and his, I think his wife managed to escape and they finally caught him and turned out they had worked for that doctor, knew he was coming up there and they were going to rob him. Well he went to the car and got him, got his pistol, but he didn't make it, they shot him and killed him. About a week after that happened, Charlie said, "Did you save your [Houston] Chronicle?" Called me and said, "Did you save your Houston Chronicle from such and such day?" I said,"I think I've still got it." He said, "Well save it for me because that was my doctor that they killed." And he was without a doctor the last ninety days to eighty days of his life.
BREMER: Really, Okay. Do you think that contributed to him maybe . . .
HENSON: No, Charlie, he was in bad shape. He used to have to have fluid drained off him. In fact he told me secretly that if he had it to do over he wouldn't have the transplant.
BREMER: Really? Okay.
HENSON: He said it wasn't worth it. He never felt good afterward, and he and I were gonna go down to visit L. G. Moore, he lives in Pasadena. He had fallen and broken his hip. Charlie said, "Well, I would love to go with you, when you go come by and get me." I called him and I said, "Were going to go tomorrow if you want to Charlie." He said,"Man I don't feel like it, I just absolutely cannot make the trip." And he was bad.
BREMER: So, when did he have the heart transplant? Was it after he left Congress?
HENSON: He died in 2010 . . . probably '09.
HENSON: I'm going to say he, he lived maybe two years afterward, but he was just constantly back and forth to the hospital in Houston and it wore on him. He didn't have a, you know, some hearts do reject, he didn't have a rejection. It didn't respond to medication and consequently caused fluid build up and that's what he was on his way to the hospital for when he died. In fact right around the corner, right in this, around the corner from where we live [in Lufkin].
BREMER: Did he tell you anything about his life the last few months? Did he have any regrets? Where there things he wanted to do differently?
HENSON: That wasn't Charlie's nature.
BREMER: Not Charlie. Okay.
HENSON: No, he, Charlie always realized he got what he worked for and deserved and never had regrets and, lo and behold none of us, even Buddy Temple who was close to him as anybody that wasn't an elected official. He didn't know about the Afghanistan war.
HENSON: No, I had no earthly idea. In fact those guns I was talking about a while ago, that was in the mid-eighties. Those were guns that he got as a result of going over there and being, working for those governments. No, we didn't know what they, it was a covert operation, very covert. I always admired his old Gust Avrakotos, the CIA agent that, he just my kind of guy, raw bone Polock from Pennsylvania, he's a son of a Pepsi-Cola bottler and wasn't a Harvard man, wasn't an Ivy League man, he was just, he didn't fit in real good with the CIA.
BREMER: What else did he say about Gust? Anything?
HENSON: Not a whole lot, I don't know that he really liked Gust. He saw Gust as an entry into that war and as far as this, he never told me too much about him. I'd ask him and he'd just kind of turn the subject off.
BREMER: He didn't talk with you about the things that made it into the movie but he talked about his personal life, right?
HENSON: No, no, we, most of my visitation with him, were just personal stories and he loved my two grandkids. They'd go by there and, in fact, I know one thing I was going to tell you. He, Charlie, loved guns and he knew that my grandson, Charlie, loved guns. He's like seven, eight years old at the time. Well he would, he's always, he was born like him, I don't know where he gets it but anyhow he knew that, Charlie knew that my Charlie liked guns. Well, in exchange for me bringing him a paper, he called me one day and said, "Listen, I've got something that I know the little boys are going to love." Said, "I would've, we would've killed for it whenever we were kids." And said, "Come on over here." And I got in the golf cart and drove over there. Lo and behold he had found a wooden rubber gun that had an automatic, you could put fifteen rubber bands on it and just shoot it automatically. Well boy that just tickled my grandson to death. I don't know who had the most fun with it, the grandkids or Charlie, he got out there in the middle of the floor and this was like two months, two or three months before he died and played with it and they'd shoot. I remember they had the Christmas tree up and he and my grandson kept shooting the Christmas tree and I said, it finally knocked one of the ornaments off, and I said, "Charlie," to my Charlie, I said "Don't shoot that tree you're going to break it." And Barbara, his wife said, "Thank you."
BREMER: So he enjoyed acting like a kid sometimes himself?
HENSON: Well, it was that he loved guns and it was a gun and he loved those two boys, they'd go by and visit with him quite often and he . . . something he could do for them. Charlie really didn't like children, he didn't care for children, but he always liked my son and my two grandsons. He just, he was constantly buying the boys something, ordering something, he'd a bought them something else if he hadn't of died.
BREMER: Do you know why he didn't like kids all that much?
HENSON: He didn't have any children, he, I don't know. Ian Foley could probably tell you, he's the first one that ever pointed it out to me. Charlie would come by after he got elected to Congress, and my son was like two years old at that time, and he'd come to the house, maybe we were having a get together of some kind, and he'd pick my son Dana up and play with him, talk to him, and charm him, and Dana loved him and after he left that night Foley said, "He doesn't even like children." Foley was working for him. "He didn't even like children. Did you see what he done with Dana?" And I said, "Yeah and I appreciate it." But why he didn't like children, I don't know, it was probably he had none, I don't know why he didn't. Probably saw it as a, something to be in the way of his success, family.
BREMER: Speaking of successes, what did Charlie think were his greatest successes, other than maybe Afghanistan? Any legislation he worked on, anything he did personally?
HENSON: Oh, one thing he, his early success was the . . . oh I swear the commission regulate . . . Telephone Regulation Committee [Public Utility Commission of Texas, finally passed in 1975].
BREMER: Did that regulate rates or decrease cost to the consumer or . . . ?
HENSON: It was designed to regulate rates, you had to show cause of why you . . . before that telephone companies, electric companies raise your rate all they want to but after that they had to get approval just like an insurance, the insurance commission you have to justify your rate increase and it was a hell of a battle but he won, he got it. I wish I could think of that Republican senator's name that was one of the key votes [likely Henry Grover]. I can't now if I had to.
BREMER: Was that fight when he was Congressman or State senator?
HENSON: No, that's, State Senator. This was in 1967 probably, yeah '67, '68 somewhere along there . . . and boy the utility companies didn't like it [Wilson introduced this legislation as a Texas State Senator in 1969 and 1973].
BREMER: Did he ever talk about any politicians? About Reagan or Clinton or the second Bush, did he tell you much about anything?
HENSON: No we never talked too much about that, our, my relationship with Charlie and discussions were always just mainly personal things. Oh, we'd discuss issues or talk about them, not discuss them just, he never mentioned. He had pictures in his house of meeting with Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan; I mean this is in like a conference room like this. Who else? Oh, Tip O'Neill [long-term Democratic Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives out of Massachusetts from 1953 to 1987, including a long stint as Speaker of the House from 1977-1987]. In fact he introduced me to Tip O'Neill one time. That was kind of a highlight. He was having some kind of fundraiser or something at the Woodlands [outside Houston] and he invited me to come down and, of course, you can always see him about that much above the regular crowd, he waved like that and introduced me to Tip O'Neill. Boy that was a thrill. He and Mo Udall, I don't know if you remember Mo Udall [Democratic U. S. Representative Morris King "Mo" Udall of Arizona served from 1961-1991] or not . . .
BREMER: The senator?
HENSON: He was one of my heroes and he was a fun guy.
BREMER: Why was Mo Udall a hero of yours?
HENSON: Well he's just my kind of politician: honest . . . I just liked him like I liked Charlie. Kind of a what you see is what you get, he . . . In Charlie's book he refers, see if I can clean this up or not, to well I think I can, he, turns out it was about the time that he introduced me to him, they were at, it may have been in a meeting that was announced that some, they were going to put somebody on maybe a, some kind of civil rights committee that pertained to women's rights, and they announced the ones that, O'Neill appointed, announced the ones he had appointed and Charlie wasn't on the list and neither was Mo Udall. And they were sitting by one another and Charlie turned to Udall and said, "Did you hear that list?" Said, "Theres not anybody on that list that knows anything about women and whiskey." [Henson laughs.] They started laughing. Mo Udall started laughing and then Charlie did too and O'Neill wanted to know what he was laughing about and he told him and he put Charlie on the committee. [Henson continues laughing.]
BREMER: That's a good story.
HENSON: That's in his book.
BREMER: So do you think Charlie was different from Texas politicians today? Is he a different breed, a different generation?
HENSON: For his time he was, well he was a leader. He was a, for the lack of a better word, more accomplished than most of them in his time. Today I don't know whether he could've, I don't think he could've handled the Tom Delays [Republican U.S. Representative from Texas, 1985-1996, who resigned amid a scandal that ultimately put him in jail on a three-year sentence in January 2011] and the leadership we have up there today, Republican leadership, but that's a political opinion.
BREMER: Would it have been harder for him to work across party lines today?
HENSON: I think it would because they're harder to work with. You know, they don't . . . and let me back up saying Democrats, as a whole, are the same way, that's what we don't have today is people like Charlie, that can cross party lines and work. There is no telling how many times he had to do that, but today you can't work with that. A bunch of right-wing Republicans and hard, some of the hard-headed liberal Democrats, you cant work with and consequently everything gets, goes down party lines, and that really isn't good and that's just philosophy rather than history. . . . You know, history will show that more successful presidents didn't have both houses behind them. Bill Clinton didn't have, and he balanced a budget, but he had to do it by crossing party lines, which he could do, he was the last one that could do it.
BREMER: So, the history knows about Charlie's role in Afghanistan, but is there anything else that you think is important to tell us for this?
HENSON: No, not that I can think of really. In fact, your questions have helped me a whole lot. Hell, I couldn't have dreamed up that much and told you what I know by myself if I had to, but no that's about all. About all I know about that subject.
BREMER: Well you've given us a great deal of very useful information and helped fill in gaps of what we know.
HENSON: Well, I hope it does.
BREMER: And we appreciate it.
HENSON: I loved to contribute in my small way.
BREMER: Well you contributed and I learned a lot just talking with you.