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Stephen F. Austin State University

Delores Thomas

Biography

Delores Thomas was born in Prescott, Arkansas and moved to Texas in her late childhood. She went Jeff Davis High School in Houston followed by San Jacinto Junior College and later the University of Houston. Thomas married and moved to East Texas where she and her husband lived in Timpson. She created the R.S.V.P. (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) that covered twelve counties and was managed by the Deep East Texas Council of Government (D.E.P.C.O.G.). Thomas's program worked with elected officials and was employed by D.E.P.C.O.G. It was through R.S.V.P. and D.E.P.C.O.G. that Thomas met and befriended Charlie Wilson. R.S.V.P. offered seniors an opportunity to volunteer, and working for Charlie Wilson was the most popular volunteer opportunity that she could offer. In 1992 after retiring and moving to Colorado, Thomas received a call from Charlie Wilson asking for her to move back to Texas and be his campaign manager. She managed Charlie's last two campaigns in 1992 and 1994. The Thomases and Wilsons remained close friends with Charlie until his death.

Interview Notes

Interviewer's Name: Perky Beisel

Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 25, 2011, in suite 303 in the Liberal Arts North Building 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 (Spring 2011)

The first two minutes of the audio recording you hear Beisel explaining the interview process to Mrs. Thomas and this was not transcribed.

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 Perky Beisel is identified as BEISEL. Delores Thomas is identified as THOMAS.

Transcript

BEGIN INTERVIEW

BEISEL: My name is Perky Beisel and I am interviewing Delores Thomas. This is part of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. Today is March 25 [2011], we are here at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. So I would like to begin with you telling me a little bit about where you were born, and where you grew up, and your early education.

THOMAS: Well, I was born in Arkansas, Prescott, which is seventeen miles from Hope, which is home of [President] Bill Clinton, not that anybody there claims him [Beisel and Thomas laugh]. He turned out to be such a rascal, but [I] grew up in Arkansas, later moved to Texas. Early education after high school, went to Jeff Davis High School in Houston, went to San Jacinto Junior College, and the University of Houston. Sadly, did not complete, dropped. Got married, and, but anyway that was basic. Moved to East Texas early on in my marriage, lived in Timpson, Texas, and had a program there that I had gotten funded called R.S.V.P., Retired Senior Volunteer Program, that covered the twelve counties, managed by the Deep East Texas Council of Government, D.E.P.C.O.G. it's called, which you probably know it by. Oh let's see, when did I meet Charlie? About 1972 I think, while I was still working with the Council of Government. Met him through Peyton Walters [Wilson's former District Director and last Administrative Assistant], we were just friends and remained friends from about '72 on, he was . . .

BEISEL: Alright, when had you come, when did you all move to East Texas to Timpson and you started this R.S.V.P. program?

THOMAS: Let's see, the R.S.V.P. program, ah let's see, I initiated that about January 1, 1973. And it did cover twelve of the eighteen counties that Charlie, nineteen counties that Charlie had. So, and my program worked with elected officials and I was employed by the Deep East Texas Council of Government who worked with all the people. And I was proud of the R.S.V.P., it was one of the early programs, but within two years it was the largest rural program in the nation.

BEISEL: Really?!

THOMAS: Uh-huh with more than . . .

BEISEL: How many . . .

THOMAS: 2,000 volunteers contributing more than 40,000 hours per month.

BEISEL: Oh wow.

THOMAS: Yes.

BEISEL: What kind of projects were they doing?

THOMAS: Well you might wonder in East Texas what in the world could you have them do . . . and it took a lot of imagination. Some of my best projects amazingly were in nursing homes, using nursing home residents as volunteers to work with seniors from the outside that came in and they would do projects for, or from children, all kinds of things. But I don't know, libraries, any type volunteer, I just got out and found a way to use people sixty years and older to do it.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And I had this network of volunteers set up, and early on Charlie, I think, had the most magnificent idea, he literally, and you might have heard this from Peyton . . .

BEISEL: I hadn't heard anything.

THOMAS: Okay, he literally took the office of a congressman to the people. And he did this by, every congressman has the D. C. office, a major primary office at home and then a sub-office.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: That's what they can legally have. Instead of the sub-office, he bought a motor home and got it, made it into like a travelling office . . .

BEISEL: Oh, how inventive.

THOMAS: . . . for the congressman. Uh-huh. And so, throughout the year, they would, from his office mail notices, "Congressman Charles Wilson or staff or both will be at the Hemphill courthouse Thursday, November 2nd,"or whatever. "If you have any problems, blah blah blah." People lined up, they . . .

BEISEL: Really?

THOMAS: . . . it would be almost around the block, almost immediately they didn't have staff to handle it. You know, because you think about an elderly person trying to find a congressman five counties over, you know . . .

BEISEL: Trying to get there.

THOMAS: Yeah, and afraid. Don't, you know, but when you know that they're going to be at the county courthouse, they would just line up, you know, so they, Charlie literally led the nation, I think the entire time he was in office, in constituent help with positive endings.

BEISEL: Oh wow.

THOMAS: You know, a lot of people just don't know a Congressman will help you with whatever, your V.A. [Veterans Affairs] problem, your pension, you disability, whatever. And his primary focus was always veterans and old people and handicapped.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: In that order. But this way the people could bring their problem right there, someone would take notes, the staff, then they would go back and work these through the system. But almost immediately they realized they couldn't handle the turnout and so they came to me. By this time Charlie knew I had the program going and wanted to know, and trust me when I tell you that it was the most popular volunteer situation I could offer a senior citizen to be on the bus helping Charlie Wilson. And so I did handpick really the best I could find and being competent, and yet that could, I mean, you can be an educated fool, and not, and we had some of those, you know, retired teachers were the worst in the world [Thomas quietly laughs] because they're accustomed to standing in the classroom telling everybody, you know, they're not accustomed to accepting, you know . . .

BEISEL: Or listening.

THOMAS: Listening to the problem, yeah, so I, but I found the best I could get because these were important things and once a year Charlie would have a recognition program for these special people. But that's how we started working together.

BEISEL: Okay, so you, through this R.S.V.P. program, identified people to go with his district staff.

THOMAS: That's right.

BEISEL: And how, did they do that? Once a month? Or was it . . .

THOMAS: It probably didn't work out exactly, how, he had nineteen counties, but pretty much once a month. Some smaller counties, they'd take two counties.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: But they tried to do it once a month and, otherwise you know, you just don't hear the needs of the people, they don't drive eighty miles to the Congressman's office to tell their story . . .

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: . . . but, like this, so that's why the volume of people that they helped, they would start it here, process it through the D. C. office, get whatever help they needed and so he led, literally took the services of a Congressman to the people. No matter how much glorified lifestyle Charlie had, and he did have plenty, he loved to party, he loved, but he loved the people back home.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And his heart was always with the home folks, taking care of the home folks. Not literally him, but his staff, a congressman's staff does whatever he directs, or she . . .

BEISEL: Right, I imagine he sets the tone for how all of that . . .

THOMAS: He dictates his priorities of what he would like to, and his was simply to take care of the home folks. And they did such a magnificent job with it, and that was how they did it. They literally took the office out to the people, got the input, you know, and so they led the nation in constituent help with positive endings.

BEISEL: Wow, and he did that. Did that continue throughout his entire career?

THOMAS: Until he retired.

BEISEL: Wow. Now how long did this R.S.V.P. program keep running?

THOMAS: It's still around, I don't hear much of it but it's still around.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: You know, and, but I don't think they're doing that any, because a different Congressman did it [Beisel laughs]. I don't think that, you know . . .

BEISEL: I don't think I've heard of any of them travelling any time recently.

THOMAS: No, they don't, the ones in Lufkin could get to it and even Nacogdoches, but past that these rural counties, it was a wonderful way to get to the people and no matter, like I said, how high he flew with his lifestyle he took care of the home folks through his staff.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And that was his priority and he did, they did such a good job. And later, he never really needed a campaign manager because he just got elected. I mean, he could just stand there and be elected because he took care of everybody. But then at one point the Republicans decided to get rid of Charlie Wilson, he had too much power . . .

BEISEL: They made him their target . . .

THOMAS: They targeted him with a bunch of money. Newt Gingrich leading the pack [Thomas laughs] and Pat Robertson,** you know, but anyway they were going to get, and so they poured the money into the campaign of a woman named Donna Peterson [a conservative from Orange, who was in her early thirties, first ran against Wilson in 1990, the first of three contests that were noted for their high-level intensity]. She was a WestPoint graduate, good looking, could debate the pants off Charlie or anybody. But she was, she had everything, you know. And they just thought this is it, we're going to get rid of him, but they didn't. So at that point, that was '92, I was living in Colorado and Charlie called and he said "I've got to have some help," you know, he said, "I need a campaign manager, I need . . . ," because he had never had one before. So I came down and he set up a condo at Lufkin and I just stayed six months and ran his campaign and it was still pretty strong in '94. Before that my husband and I were just friends with Charlie and so we partied with him [Thomas and Beisel laugh] and all kinds. But as far as my working for him that's how it started. [*Newt Gingrich (Newton Leroy Gingrich; born June 17, 1943, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) is an American politician who notably served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (1995-99); the first Republican to hold the office in 40 years. He served as a Congressman from Georgia for twenty years, from 1979-1999, when he resigned. He later unsuccessfully sought the Republican Party's nomination for president in 2012.] [**Pat Robinson (Marion Gordon Robertson) is an American evangelist. A graduate of Yale law school, he experienced a religious conversion and enrolled at New York Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1959. In 1960 he launched the nation's first Christian TV station in Portsmouth, VA, the precursor to his famous national Christian Broadcasting Network and its top talk show The 700 Club. Like evangelist Jerry Farwell and his Moral Majority organization, Robertson and many other evangelists became evermore politically active by the late 1970s and 1980s, and beyond. Robertson unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, losing out to incumbent Vice President George H. W. Bush. He subsequently launched the Christian Coalition, a nearly two-million member Christian organization that campaigned for conservative candidates. In 1994 the coalition was fined for improperly aiding in campaigns and, in 2001, Robertson left the Coalition, though he remains active and visible today through a myriad of other organizations and television.]

BEISEL: So you'd been associated with him . . .

THOMAS: As a friend.

BEISEL: . . . through the R.S.V.P. program and as a friend . . .

THOMAS: Right, uh huh.

BEISEL: And then, and that was in the early seventies . . .

THOMAS: Yes.

BEISEL: . . . and then, so you were familiar with each other . . .

THOMAS: Not early seventies, it was probably more like '76 or seven, somewhere.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Maybe a little later, '70, somewhere along there because I had a well-established program for him to draw from . . .

BEISEL: Right, how long did you run that R.S.V.P. program for D.E.P.C.O.G.?

THOMAS: Fifteen years.

BEISEL: Oh okay.

THOMAS: And finally retired and we moved to Colorado.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Yes.

BEISEL: And so that's where you were when . . .

THOMAS: He called.

BEISEL: in the summer or spring of 1992, when he would have been calling you I guess.

THOMAS: Let's see, no it was probably in the, let me see if I can get it straight, in the fall of, yeah, I guess in the-it would be in the summer or fall of '92, yeah.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Started about May or June of '92 for that . . .

BEISEL: For that six months of real hard campaigning.

THOMAS: Right. Really hard.

BEISEL: What kind of, I'm not familiar with campaign process, what kind of things did you do as his manager?

THOMAS: Well we would, of course, try to find, make, take the most advantage of having Charlie home by finding what was needed. So we always had speaking engagements for him, events, fish fries, barbeques, you know, could really . . .

BEISEL: So would you contact like a local Rotary clubs or were these with church groups . . .

THOMAS: No, these would be with people that we would hear through the office. It just was no problem to find places for Charlie Wilson to speak or be or do.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And we would just stay really busy when he was, and then he would campaign, or he'd call "working the crowd," you know, you, some event and Charlie and staff would be there and, you know, meet with the people. Sometimes he would be the guest speaker, sometimes he would just be there and . . .

BEISEL: Okay. And so he would be coming in from Washington?

THOMAS: Yes he, as all Congressmen do when they're up for reelections. And a, really flaw, I think, in our government is that they have to be reelected every two years. You're barely getting started until you've got to start planning the campaign for the next election and it takes away from the effectiveness that I think they could be as a Congressman. . . . But he was in office twenty-four years so he had a lot of power.

BEISEL: Right. Well, it would seem like you said that for a very long time he could just stand there and be elected . . .

THOMAS: That's right.

BEISEL: He probably didn't have to expend a lot of time and energy . . .

THOMAS: Didn't, no. He would hand out some fingernail files or whatever thing that was going with the campaign at the time. But when they targeted him, then he really knew there was a possibility that he could be defeated. So, then I came down and we set up a campaign office for the first time in his career.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And that actually was the last two campaigns of his career.

BEISEL: Alright, that would have been '92 and '94.

THOMAS: That's right, and then he announced retirement, I guess late '95, somewhere along there. And said he would not run in '96 and that's when he stepped down.

BEISEL: And you said that was in Lufkin where you had that campaign . . .

THOMAS: Yes, uh-huh.

BEISEL: . . . campaign office.

THOMAS: Because that was his hometown.

BEISEL: Do you remember where that was located?

THOMAS: Oh it was a different place each time, we just found a vacant house and set up an office and I couldn't give you the street addresses now if my life depended on it [Beisel laughs]. I know where they were but, but everybody knew pretty quick where to . . .

BEISEL: And did you end up hiring a staff to help you do this?

THOMAS: Yes, I did, I had a computer operator because at that time I never touched a computer. You know, it's just that long ago and then we had a lot of volunteers. Let's see, I had Chris, I had a couple of people that worked with the campaign, and you had to be so careful because you can't pay campaign workers out of congressional money that they're paid, you know, we had to raise the money to operate the campaign.

BEISEL: So how, were you in charge . . .

THOMAS: So fundraisers.

BEISEL: I was going to say, were you in charge of fundraising?

THOMAS: Did a lot of fundraisers and whatever to be able to have the money to campaign.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Yeah one of the most effective things that I think we used with Charlie, four by eight, those big four by eight posters you see around, that, and all they would say would be "Charlie," that's it, nothing else.

BEISEL: Didn't need anything else.

THOMAS: Just "Charlie." And usually they were this outrageous pink and blues [Thomas laughs], you know, that was, nothing just ordinary about his campaign. But he had such a gift of knowing what worked, and I mean you drive down any highway and his district and you see these big "Charlie" signs, four by eight, it's all it says "Charlie." But they were, it was very effective.

BEISEL: People knew.

THOMAS: And, of course, people loved to see Charlie, you know. And a lot of the fundraising, there was no problem if we could get Charlie there.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: You know, because the people would turn out for him.

BEISEL: Would those be dinners or how did you raise money?

THOMAS: Barbeques, fish fries, you know, like a, I want to say someone from Center, Texas would do a fish fry and they would bring all the people in and people would make contributions and . . .

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: . . . you know, we'd do fundraising . . .

BEISEL: So write a check and . . .

THOMAS: . . . but truly, truthfully, I mean, I'm telling this as honesty. The money we could raise in the district was miniscule. It wouldn't have even started, most of the money that it took to operate the campaign, to do what we had to do, came from Charlie getting on the phone and calling his "Jew friends" [Thomas laughs]. He called them in D. C. that he lobbied for later and that they would always come through with major. And it was interesting. I'll give you an example of how diversified Charlie was. He loved conservation and anything in that line, but I remember in '92 when we were really, you know, trying for everything, he got a $10,000 contribution from the National Rifle Association and about two days later a $10,000 dollar contribution from the [conservationist and wildlife organization] National Audubon Society [Beisel and Thomas laugh]. I mean, how far apart can you be?

BEISEL: Right, right.

THOMAS: But that's, you know, just, he just seemed to touch all phases. But that kind of money is what it took to really run . . . that's true with any Congressman or Senator.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: You just can't raise enough.

BEISEL: Especially not in East Texas area.

THOMAS: No, no.

BEISEL: It might be different elsewhere.

THOMAS: I mean, they give $100, man they have given big money.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: For just constituents across, you know, and, so if you get, I don't know, fifty, sixty thousand dollars, it's been a good year. But it took so much more [Thomas laughs] than that to, you know, for the staff and whatever it took to, you know . . .

BEISEL: And pay for those posters.

THOMAS: Oh the posters and the gasoline to campaign. Because from when you're campaigning from the time you come home you get off the congressional money and go on campaign money. So anywhere he went in that motor home, you know, had to be covered with campaign funds. And I had a pretty good staff, probably, maybe eight people doing different things. It just takes, nineteen counties is a lot of area to cover.

BEISEL: That is. That's a lot of area to cover. What where, do you remember, what were some of the big issues that perhaps the Republicans were targeting him for in '92 and '94?

THOMAS: '92, God I'll have to remember, was it '92 . . . it was. The Japanese wanted our trees [Thomas laughs] and I don't remember all of the details but he fought for timber rights of the people, that was a big issue and he always worked a lot with labor . . .

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: . . . it maybe wasn't his favorite thing but he had to work with the labor unions, especially around Orange, Port Arthur, and places like that.

BEISEL: Okay down near the ship yards . . .

THOMAS: Um-hm.

BEISEL: . . . down there okay, okay.

THOMAS: But when it got down to it, even individuals that had money, you're limited as an individual at that time. And I've not kept up, it could have changed. You could contribute legally a thousand dollars in the primary and a thousand dollars in the campaign and that's it, no more.

BEISEL: That's not very much.

THOMAS: No it isn't. But from corporations like Autobahn or whatever you could get the big, and that's why, you know, you tried to get all that you could from constituents. But you didn't have many thousand dollar contributors in the district . . .

BEISEL: Right, right.

THOMAS: So, not enough to keep a campaign up and going and so he tried to go under in debt [Thomas laughs] with the campaign every time he came out . . .

BEISEL: Well, because you hear on the news now that so many people are trying to raise money after their campaigns to pay off debts . . .

THOMAS: To pay off the debt.

BEISEL: Did Charlie ever go in debt . . .

THOMAS: He did.

BEISEL: . . . in the two that you were involved in.

THOMAS: Yes, he did but he was able to resolve it fairly quickly.

BEISEL: Fairly quickly.

THOMAS: But you just cannot, I mean, it turns into a tremendous. The gasoline to cover nineteen counties to campaign, you know, that's just the starting of it.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And now, he would come home as often as he could legally as a Congressman and always the month of August is free, you know, that they can, they're home, all the congressmen are off in August. So that was a heavy campaign month, but, interesting, and interesting, you know, every community had a different problem, you know. You'd have one group of problems here, another one somewhere else, and it always amazed me if we were at any time, situation from where he took questions from the audience, and you have to be, how you could know enough to just stand up there and come up with an answer.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: You know, but one thing about Charlie, he was up for it. If he didn't know, he said, "I have no idea but I'll find out," and there'd always be staff over to the side taking notes of what they needed to . . .

BEISEL: And then he would get back or his staff would get back with them . . .

THOMAS: Would follow up.

BEISEL: . . . promptly?

THOMAS: Right. Sometimes he would just run off no whatever answer they were asking, if not they always followed through and got back. And he was always honest to the point that the staff were just going you know, scary [Thomas laughs], because he told everything on himself, more I mean, really not other people but on himself.

BEISEL: Do you think that's what helped build . . .

THOMAS: The rapport.

BEISEL: . . . the rapport with the people of East Texas.

THOMAS: Well, because, yeah, he was honest. He didn't try to hide anything. And I know when he retired, one thing he said, "I had the most wonderful constituents in the world, you forgave me all my transgressions" [Beisel and Thomas laugh]. And he meant that from the heart.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: You know, he had his tail in a crack half the time over something you know. But it didn't matter what, the people loved him. Because I tell you what, even where I live now, we have a Congressman, but who would know how to find him? I mean, I live in New Braunfels. His office is in San Antonio. But everyone knew how to get to Charlie Wilson and if they had any kind of problem he would find a way to fix it or his staff would.

BEISEL: And so maybe that . . .

THOMAS: And he kept his staff a long time. He didn't have a lot of turnover. I know there's been a lot said from, not from the campaign standpoint, but from, of "Charlie's Angels" [the term, adopted from the popular television show, given to and/or appropriated by his female staffers who were touted for their physical attractiveness].

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: Well, he did have almost one hundred percent really good looking women that worked for him. But that was not the criteria that they were hired. It was how smart they were and how much they knew about whichever position, you know, that he would be hiring them.

BEISEL: Didn't hurt but that was what was considered . . .

THOMAS: That's right.

BEISEL: . . . was their effectiveness.

THOMAS: That's right. I mean he did too many things and was gone too much. He had to have the best staff in the world, both D. C. and the office back home.

BEISEL: In Lufkin.

THOMAS: Yeah.

BEISEL: And his headquarters were in Lufkin.

THOMAS: Lufkin was the main office.

BEISEL: And so you said they were able to have a sub-office and that was in his . . . mobile home.

BEISEL: . . . his Foretravel.

THOMAS: His Foretravel, uh-huh.

BEISEL: And that was just based out of the Lufkin office?

THOMAS: Yeah.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Yeah, and they would set it up with a schedule and during campaigns though it really got complicated because we used that same Foretravel to travel around the region for him to campaign. Well then we had to technically take it off the congressional, you know, it couldn't[Thomas laughs], it was not the sub-office anymore. It was the campaign bus and so . . . you know, they've got so many rules . . .

BEISEL: I'm thinking of you going out and siphoning out the congressional gas to up in campaign gas [Thomas laughs] and then switching them back.

THOMAS: You had to keep really good records.

BEISEL: And were you in charge of having to manage those records for the campaign?

THOMAS: Some of it. But technically Amy, what is her, Grambol in the D. C. office, I think or Triter, whatever. Had been with him almost from the beginning and she kept the records.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: But I had to correspond, or send in; had to be scrutinized because, you know, it did get technical. But when it got there then Amy had to decipher what's what and have the justification there to prove it.

BEISEL: Do you feel that he worked, he worked well; or I guess what I'm trying to ask is what characteristics did he draw upon to create what seems like from what people have said such a good atmosphere among his staff, and, you know, how did he help create this atmosphere?

THOMAS: He didn't have a lot of staff turnover, you're right about that. People just stayed with him because he hired what he thought would be the best and he let them do the job. He was not a micro manager. He hired them knowing, you do it, and he let them do it, you know, not everybody can do that.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: But that was one thing, and, but Charlie himself was just bigger than life. But he had such a joy of life and you could not but get caught up in his aura of helping people and wanting to do, you know, so it . . .

BEISEL: Would you describe him as a very genuine person?

THOMAS: Oh absolutely to the point that it hurt sometimes [Thomas laughs]. You know, he was so totally honest, he never tried to cover up any of his misses. If he, you know, he just got up and said, "Bring on the posse."

BEISEL: And do you think that's what helped keep, as Texas and East Texas began to move towards the Republican party, do you think that's what helped keep him popular among . . .

THOMAS: I don't think it, I don't think it would . . .

BEISEL: . . . the changing constituency?

THOMAS: . . . that change came just as he was going out and I, probably it had something to do with, because they did that to get rid of, I mean that was a deliberate thing.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: You know, and I have no idea how it would have gone. To me I hear now that all of what was his nineteen counties or whatever is almost totally Republican and I cannot imagine that.

BEISEL: It's a majority, yes.

THOMAS: That's what I've heard. And I can't even imagine it. But on the other hand, probably if you walked out on the street and said, "Who is your U.S. Congressman?" I bet you couldn't find one out of a hundred who could tell you. But if you asked during his time, "Oh Charlie," you didn't have to say, "Charlie."

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And he, you know, he got involved in the Afghanistan thing and there was a 60 Minutes documentary, "Charlie Did It," and kind of made him famous, I guess, back home. But he was such a, he loved the people and he loved knowing that his staff helped the people because he was in office. I mean it, with all of the partying and beautiful women and things in his life, the bottom line was that he was this country boy from Trinity that loved John Wayne and was so proud to have been elected Congressman. I loved one of his stories and it's probably been told somewhere and I was trying to remember if it's in the book [Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile], I'd have to stop, I can't think, remember right now. But, and it came up on, we were driving, riding back from somewhere and he had given an appointment or the recommendation for an appointment to Annapolis I believe it was, and the kid started and after about a month he dropped out. Oh, and I mean there you've denied somebody else, at that time it was about a $200,000 scholarship, you know.

BEISEL: Oh my gosh.

THOMAS: And, oh he was just so upset, you know, he said, "But I can understand." You know, he tried to be, he said when he, he wanted to go to Annapolis so bad that's all he could think about and he couldn't, he didn't get an appointment when he graduated from high school so he went to Huntsville [Sam Houston State University] for one year but he kept trying and then he got an appointment to, from a Congressman to go to Annapolis and he was so thrilled, you know [Thomas laughs]. But he was still so young even then. He said he got there and he said by Thanksgiving he was so homesick he was almost crazy because he had never been away and so he called his dad who had a big lumber company, lumberyard where they milled the lumber and so forth, and he said that "I just can't take it, you know, I think I'm going to drop out." And his dad said, "Well son, I know you've thought this through and if your mind is made up I'm not going to try to change you." He said "you can drive the number two pulpwood truck." Well [Thomas laughs], you know, driving a pulpwood truck is not, and he said, "But you know, let me know what you . . . " Well he thought about it and he decided that he [Thomas laughs] didn't want to drive that pulpwood truck. So he stayed on and when he came home in December, you know, at the Christmas break, that was about Thanksgiving, he came home at Christmas he was so proud he stuck it out.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And that he was still there and hadn't been kicked out [Thomas laughs] and he said he wore the whites, which was from Annapolis, and he said he walked up and down the streets of Trinity all that Saturday, he wanted everybody by God to know he'd made it. So [Beisel and Thomas laugh] . . .

BEISEL: That he had been there. And is that why veterans were such an important part of, you said that that was . . .

THOMAS: Oh, he was the most . . .

BEISEL: . . . number one priority?

THOMAS: It was his number one priority. He was the most patriotic person you've ever known and a warrior to the core, you know, both. But it, for whatever reason, taking care of the veterans was close to the heart and I don't know if it was going to school at Annap[olis], I just think he was raised that way in Trinity.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: I've heard him tell a story of how, when there was a prisoner of war camp in Trinity County and he would hear in the newspaper when they were bringing prisoners in and he was just a boy.

BEISEL: I was going to say, he was fairly young.

THOMAS: Oh, he was, but he was so fascinated. He would go down and hide and watch them unload and he said to this day he can still remember how they, they would come off those troop trains and line up in formation, the German prisoners, and then they would march to the prison camp and it just fascinated him, you know. And he just considered him a, you know, himself Trinity's number one plane watcher you know, in case they bombed Trinity. As a little boy, you know, that's how he saw things. But, no, I just think that's how he was raised and then it was probably perpetuated by patriotic movies like Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne or whatever. And then to Annapolis where you have to be patriotic I would think.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And so he, but he, he really respected and loved the veterans for what they gave and did for the country. And his, I think the accomplishment he's proudest of, of his entire career was that V.A. Clinic in Lufkin.

BEISEL: Okay. Now were you involved with the statue? That was recently installed . . .?

THOMAS: Yes Peyton [Walters] and . . . uh-huh.

BEISEL: What, how did that come about? That statue . . .

THOMAS: It started, David Adickes did the statue, that's a sculptor out of Houston. And Charlie had decided he would, he had a room upstairs in his house of memorabilia and he thought, you know, it'd be kind of nice to have a bust of himself. So he met David, I think, in Williamsburg or somewhere. But it came about that they had a bust done of Charlie that he was going to have in his home and then he died and I don't know, Peyton Walters and I decided, you know, we need a statue in front of that V.A. Clinic, not a bust, a statue of Charlie Wilson. So I have to give Peyton Walters credit for organizing most of the letters, I helped him all I could, but I live in New Braunfels and . . .

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: . . . but it was just a dream we had. But anyway, we started by contacting the sculptor and I sent him, went through campaign pictures and pulled out every picture I could find of Charlie standing, you know, and I took for him to get a feel. But he had met Charlie, he had the feel of him as a person.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And I think that's important and he really wanted to do the statue. So then it was, we had to raise, and we got it for an incredible price, I don't remember $48,000 or something.

BEISEL: Oh.

THOMAS: Very incredible. And big donation from the Temple foundation and it wasn't that hard to get $100 donations to finish it out and pay for the statue.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: But it needed to be . . .

BEISEL: Needed to be done.

THOMAS: Oh I think so and it's situated right there in Lufkin in front of the V.A. Clinic.

BEISEL: And that clinic is named for Charlie?

THOMAS: Yes, and I'll tell you something, he was so proud. I didn't know this until he told me, normally federal buildings are never named after a living person, and that just did not sit well with him, he wanted that to be the Charles Wilson V.A. Clinic and he just raised hell and raised hell with every Congressman or Senator that he still knew to get it named. He said, well, I won't say what he said, he wanted it named after him while he was still living and could see it up on the building and got it and it was done. Yep. So, yep. And that was a big thing. He wanted it done where he could see. He was so interested in one way, he always tried to prepare me or whoever was around, "Now don't get upset if we don't have many show up." You know, he never thought people would come to his parties or to his campaigns or whatever, you know, he'd always try to prepare. And even after, and this is long after he retired, and me too, but I went back to do pictures of the ribbon cutting of the V.A. Clinic, which I keep seeing something. I believe it was November, yeah November '09 was the dedication, the ribbon cutting and I got to town and called him and told him I was there and I was going to do pictures for him and he said, "Now I'm going to, you know, don't be disappointed when, I've been out of office a long time, don't be disappointed if we don't have a big crowd . . ."

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: "You know, I've been out of office a long time." The next morning it was raining buckets, I had never seen so much rain in my life during the time that he would be speaking and the ribbon cutting going on and so he gave me a call at the hotel, "Now I just want to warn you ahead of time, it's, you know, in weather like this, they're not going to turn out so don't be disappointed." You cannot believe the people that, in the pouring rain, you'd see these veterans rolling up in their wheelchairs, on their crutches. You know, it just makes tears to your eyes that they wanted to be there. Yeah they knew it was done for them. Yeah. And that was his dream too, because when you think about it there was no facility for veterans, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Waco, there was nothing in all of East Texas.

BEISEL: Nothing? In the entire . . .

THOMAS: Nothing.

BEISEL: . . . portion of the state.

THOMAS: So even though it's not a full hospital, it's close to it, but they can all get referred and they have a bus that goes back and forth to Houston. So that might be the highlight of what he did in his career, to finally get that for the veterans.

BEISEL: Now you mentioned that the Temple Foundation gave a large contribution . . .

THOMAS: Oh, they did.

BEISEL: . . . to the statue. Did you work much with the Temple family or the Temple-Inland Company . . . ?

THOMAS: Peyton did . . .

BEISEL: Were they . . . ?

THOMAS: . . . most of that. Buddy Temple* was Charlie's best friend and it was his father Arthur [Temple, Jr.]** that all the money came from. [*Buddy Temple was born in Texarkana, Arkansas and grew up in Lufkin, Texas. A long-time (best) friend of Wilson's, as Charlie worked for Buddy's father Arthur Temple, Jr., Buddy graduated the Lawrenceville School in 1960, 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.] [**Arthur B. 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.]

BEISEL: Right, and so, were they, during Charlie's career, were they important backers?

THOMAS: Oh absolutely. I mean Arthur Temple was probably his number one supporter.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: You know, very close.

BEISEL: And then, and then the larger Tim Sutters, excuse me, timber industry as a whole, was that, did he have support from industry in general?

THOMAS: Yeah, because he supported all the programs they tried to, on conservation and whatever's very important to him. Yeah.

BEISEL: Do you remember any of the issues surrounding the establishment of the Big Thicket National Preserve?

THOMAS: Yes.

BEISEL: Do you remember any of that?

THOMAS: He fought hard to get that and at the same time I think Phil Gramm [Democratic Congressman 1978-83, Republican Congressman 1983-85, Republican Senator 1985-2002 from Texas] got involved in it someway and ended up getting most of the credit, but it was really Charlie's work that got the establishment of the Big Thicket.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Yeah, it was a big, big thing.

BEISEL: And then what about, I heard a lot of people say that he was involved a lot with the social security administration. Do you, how was he a part . . .

THOMAS: [interrupts] I don't know.

BEISEL: . . . dealing with social security issues.

THOMAS: Issues. And that was because of the age of the people in his region, in his district.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: A lot of elderly people, social security checks and problems and injustices or whatever. Talking to you about that Big Thicket just made me think of a funny story. I mean it's, we were going down for, let's see, I guess it was with the Forest Service to take a canoe trip and there was about ten canoes going down this, oh God what's the river? There in the middle of the Big Thicket, and, oh Charlie was very excited about this, you know, dreams finally coming true. So I never will forget, usually he didn't get involved in helping carry things but we had so much he had an ice chest on his, you know, carrying it kind of on the side here going up, and as we were approaching he says, "Oh, great turn out, oh this is going to be a great day." And he could, see Charlie, he said, "Oh my, they've even got signs out." And the closer we got, it was an end tie, everything there and it said Charlie Wilson, "Charlie Wilson Sucks," [Thomas and Beisel laugh] instead of, you know, it was not at all what he was visualizing. And then when we got to where the crowd had gathered they literally tore his head off for the next hour. Oh!

BEISEL: Oh, what were they so upset about?

THOMAS: I don't remember, I was just trying to think what the problem was that they were so upset. They opposed the Big Thicket. I think they, these were land owners that it infringed on and they opposed it and, oh my goodness, they were just, but he didn't back down, he still fought for it and [Thomas laughs] that's the most I remember about it because it's like a nightmare, you know. You're just suddenly being attacked by fifteen people from every direction and, but I think that was primarily land owners that were just not for the Big Thicket.

BEISEL: When he ran into opposition to things such as the Big Thicket or elsewhere, did, how did he react to that? Did it, in your opinion, did it get him down . . .

THOMAS: No.

BEISEL: . . . or did he just take it as a challenge?

THOMAS: He just, it's just part of it. And I remember one time asking him, someone had just really been ugly, you know, and it amazes me that people can do that, but they had been just vicious and I had said, "Oh my God Charlie, how do you just not lose it?" He said, "Oh, you know, this is America, they have their right to their opinion," you know, and it just didn't get him down.

BEISEL: And do you think that's . . .

THOMAS: He had a great philosophy and . . .

BEISEL: Right. Without getting into the sensationalism of it, the parties and his lifestyle is that what probably allowed him to, to do what he wanted to do without worrying too much about it?

THOMAS: What the people back home thought?

BEISEL: The backlash, right.

THOMAS: Yeah. Well now he, he was like, it was like two different worlds. A world in D. C. and a world back home. He could have never partied like that and done the things back home that took place in D. C.

BEISEL: So that was not part of his persona in . . .

THOMAS: No. no.

BEISEL: . . . East Texas.

THOMAS: No. So when he came home, he got with the program of what the people that sent him there wanted and he was very faithful to try to take care of, and that was his motto, "taking care of the homefolks," and that's what he did. But along with it he was smart enough to get involved in things that he was interested in like Afghanistan.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: And pursue . . .

BEISEL: What did you feel, did you know that that was going on at the time?

THOMAS: Not that much. We were friends with Charlie and when he would come home and all of his staff and close friends would gather up maybe at Hawkeye or Scrappin' Valley [East Texas hunting and fishing lodges] or somewhere. We'd be there and we'd here little bits and pieces but I had no idea to the extent until it was over and I saw him on T. V. like everybody else.

BEISEL: Were you surprised?

THOMAS: Yeah, I really was [Thomas laughs], you know, because he came home and we just didn't sit around and talk about that. We just, we talked about things in the district, and this is long before I ever did a campaign for him.

BEISEL: Right. How many people would be at these, at these you know, gatherings that he would have? These social gatherings? Would they be very large groups?

THOMAS: You mean back in the district?

BEISEL: Right, back here in the district that you and your husband would attend.

THOMAS: Oh the social groups. Oh I don't know, twenty-five, thirty people. You know, it'd be pretty close friends.

BEISEL: Would it be, like you know, dinner?

THOMAS: Oh he'd usually have a dinner catered. Are you familiar with Hawkeye? That was a . . .

BEISEL: I am not.

THOMAS: . . . it was a wonderful . . .

BEISEL: can you tell me about that?

THOMAS: hunter's paradise I guess. They had a big wonderful building and facility but people, and I guess they planted pheasants and pollo and people would fly in from everywhere to hunt, it was a high-dollar resort hunting.

BEISEL: Hmm, where was that located?

THOMAS: In Shelby County, out of Center.

BEISEL: Okay. Alright. Do you know if it's still in business?

THOMAS: It's still there and I don't know what they do now. And Scrappin' Valley, we've been there several times, and that was owned by the Temple Foundation.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And it was just a resort where they'd fly people in to entertain and wine and dine.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Oh it was fun because they'd always have, the meals would be catered by some gourmet cook, it was a . . .

BEISEL: Would it be sit down meals?

THOMAS: Well they'd usually have one big sit down meal and then other things, you know, usually go for a weekend or something when he'd be home.

BEISEL: Oh, alright. Oh wow.

THOMAS: Yeah it had wonderful breakfast and . . .

BEISEL: And would he go out hunting or just . . .

THOMAS: No.

BEISEL: . . . sit, even at the at the hunting lodge.

THOMAS: No, no, no. In fact he told me one time, he shot a deer one time, he said it made him sick and he couldn't hunt but now he could, he could have gunned down Russians and never blinked an eye. But to kill a helpless, defenseless animal just somehow did not sit well with him. Isn't that funny?

BEISEL: So he, he would go to this place, was it a members only type place, this Hawkeye?

THOMAS: I think . . .

BEISEL: Do you know?

THOMAS: I guess they had a membership, kind of like a country club.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: But people would be flown in there from all over the United States for hunting trips and fishing trips, I think they had guided fishing tours and hunting tours, hunting trips.

BEISEL: Oh wow.

THOMAS: I don't know, all we ever did was party there [Thomas laughs] so I'm not sure what they did . . .

BEISEL: Well did you meet any interesting people that you didn't know? Was it an opportunity for the East Texans to meet other people that Charlie was interested in?

THOMAS: Well he brought, have you read his book? Charlie Wilson's War?

BEISEL: A very long time ago, yes. I don't remember that much, I should have reread it.

THOMAS: Yeah, because that had, the man named Gust Avrakotos, the Greek CIA agent, brought him one time, that was interesting. Oscar Wyatt, are you familiar with Oscar Wyatt? [Oscar Sherman Wyatt, Jr. is an Houston businessman and founder of Coastal Corporation. In 2007 he pled guilty in federal court to illegally sending payments to Iraq under the Oil for Food program.]

BEISEL: No.

THOMAS: He's the billionaire from Houston that, his wife Lynn, family owned . . . Sakowitz [Lynn is the daughter of the late Bernard Sakowitz and Ann Baum, as well as the sister of Robert T. Sakowitz]. Anyway, he would fly in occasionally and be there. But mostly when we gathered up there it would be staff and family or . . .

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: . . . just real close friends.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: Yeah. But those were some of the most fun times of my life. Yeah. And most of those times were before I ever worked for him and, course, we continued on before and after and during. But it, and if Charlie, if you were his friend, you know, he forgave anything that was not perfect about you. He was the most non-judgmental person I have ever known. Not critical, even to his enemies, he just wouldn't do it. He never got up and slammed his opponent.

BEISEL: So he wouldn't be a part of this, what seems like so much of just negative advertising that goes on . . .

THOMAS: Absolutely. In fact, he was known for, of us that knew, for working with crossing the aisle and putting deals together, "You do this for me and I'll help you with this." I mean, that's how it worked and it worked beautifully. But I've heard him say, he said when Newt Gingrich came on board [as the Republican Speaker of the House in 1994] with his henchmen, that was the end of working with the other side, there was no more, and not too long after that he said, "You know, it's just not fun anymore, you can't make anything happen because nobody works with anyone."

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And he was ready to get out.

BEISEL: Ready to get out.

THOMAS: Yeah, he liked to make things happen and he didn't care if it was with Democrats or Republicans, you get it done. But when they would no longer work together . . .

BEISEL: Do you remember any, anything that he was passionate about that he wasn't able to get done, that perhaps he might have regretted not being able to make a bigger impact or a change?

THOMAS: The V.A. Clinic was his dream and he always, he had a smaller version near but I mean when he got the big one in, uh, but things he . . . I'm sure there was but nothing just comes out . . .

BEISEL: Nothing.

THOMAS: . . . as being like a major disappointment that he didn't get done. Yeah. He fought pretty hard [Beisel and Thomas laugh] when he had something on his mind to get it through and done. Yeah, but he did get terribly disappointed in the end when you couldn't work, you know, cross the aisle and work with each other. That was a big disappointment, because it just took that to make it happen.

BEISEL: Right, right. It sounds like he understood how, how the system reigned.

THOMAS: He did, he had the best of, and you know what was interesting, he could be just as comfortable with minorities on the riverbanks as with the aristocracy of D. C. or wherever. And he ran with a lot of moneyed people, including Joanne Herring [political activist and businesswoman who helped motivate Wilson to fund the arm resistance fighters in Afghanistan; portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film Charlie Wilson's War] you know. That, boy talk about a beautiful woman. I know when that movie came out, I brought some pictures that she was eighty years old and she is gorgeous.

BEISEL: Oh wow.

THOMAS: Course she's had some help and makes no, but I mean she, at the time he dated her back early on when I first met Charlie. He had her at, I guess the first victory party I went to at his house, in the early seventies and he, she was just gorgeous, you know, and certainly from the moneyed people. But she's really the reason he got into Afghanistan.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: Was her wanting to get over there and help those people, got him involved.

BEISEL: What was his house like? Was it . . .

THOMAS: It was on, what's the name of that creek? Crooked Creek I guess, Crooked Creek Road was where he lived. Very, not a log house but built with that outdoorsy look. Huge deck went all the way across the back, you know, with glass doors. And he loved the wilderness and anything to do with promoting, saving, you know, working with environmentalists in every way he was, he was very much an environmentalist. His number one priorities were veterans but very much an environmentalist, women's rights. He was probably the number one guy in D. C. to promote women's rights.

BEISEL: How did he do that?

THOMAS: In every way that he could, you know, any time a female was running for anything he'd be out there trying to help her in every, you know, in every way.

BEISEL: And did he promote women within his staff to . . .

THOMAS: Absolutely, it was almost . . .

BEISEL: Obviously he brought you in.

THOMAS: Yeah, well he had, almost everybody was female. Let's see, there was district director back home and a sprinkling of men but there was by far more women than men on his staff.

BEISEL: Did, how did he work with minorities here in East Texas?

THOMAS: Oh beautifully. They absolutely loved Charlie.

BEISEL: And was the population primarily African American, was the minority here at that time?

THOMAS: Yeah, there's very little else. Now I think there's a lot of illegals that have come about in the last few years. But at that time it was primarily black and they loved Charlie. I mean he could go to their churches and stand up and sing with them and they just loved him.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And he loved them.

BEISEL: And so you had a good biracial support in East Texas.

THOMAS: Absolutely, there's no way it could have been better, yeah. And had there been a Hispanic population to speak of he would have, you know, been right in there with hiring a staff person or whatever. There just wasn't enough here to warrant it at that time.

BEISEL: At that time. Did he hire many African Americans on his staff?

THOMAS: Well, yes he did, he had some in D. C. and I guess only one or two back home. Norma Butler was with him right on twenty years.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And she was the veteran contact person.

BEISEL: Oh, so she worked on if a constituent had a veterans . . .

THOMAS: That's right.

BEISEL: . . . problem.

THOMAS: She was the one that would make it happen.

BEISEL: Okay.

THOMAS: And disabilities. But primarily she was the veteran contact and she was very, very good at her job and she's at the meeting today.

BEISEL: Right, right. I think someone else is interviewing her [Butler was indeed interviewed for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project by Randi Cox].

THOMAS: Yeah, she's a great gal.

BEISEL: Yes, yes. Well it just, and there's just so much.

THOMAS: There is, you know, and it if you, there's just so many funny stories you know. You could just get started and talk all day. But if would say how could you work that hard, it's the hardest I've ever worked in my life for those campaigns. Oh the hours, the, you know, the stress, whatever. But such fun and the most fun would be coming home after some event and Charlie knew two songs, "New York, New York" and "Paper Moon" and if he'd ever have a Scotch or something he would love to get up and sing "Paper Moon" or "New York, New York" [Beisel and Thomas laughing]. It was so funny. He actually could sing well but I know when we had Johnny and June Cash down they discovered that he liked to sing and before the show was over they had him up there singing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee"[Thomas laughs] with them.

BEISEL: Oh really?

THOMAS: Yeah.

BEISEL: Was that part of his campaign that the Cashes came?

THOMAS: They did.

BEISEL: Oh wow.

THOMAS: It was interesting how that came about. In Jamaica, Billy Gramm, a man named John Rollins, I guess those two had five thousand acre like plantations in Jamaica. And of all things, squatters got into their property and they couldn't get them off. And they came to Charlie and somehow, I have no idea how he did it, but he got the squatters off their property. Well they wanted to do something in appreciation and so, of course, Johnny Cash said he would come out and do a concert. Well Johnny told me later, we spend three days with he and June roaming around, he told me what he had in mind was probably come out, have twenty or thirty people that would contribute a thousand dollars a pop, you know, and that would be the fundraising, he would sit and pick a few songs with June. Charlie said, "Oh no, no, no, no, no," that's not what he had in mind at all. What he had in mind was to do, get the biggest facility in Orange, Texas where his opponent lived, Donna Peterson, which was the V.A., what did they get, not V.A., God I'm going blank here, but the veterans . . .

BEISEL: Veterans Administration?

THOMAS: No, no, well God what did they call it? Where the veterans meet . . .

BEISEL: Like the Legion hall?

THOMAS: Legion, veterans, more like a Legion hall.

BEISEL: Veterans of Foreign Wars, V.F.W.?

THOMAS: V.F.W.! There you go [Thomas and Beisel laugh]. I've been out too long. V.F.W. It was the big, and he wanted to have Johnny Cash come and play at the V.F.W. in Orange where she was and he was going to charge ten dollars a person and that would be a fundraiser. Well as it ended up he gave every ticket away, never charged anything for anybody but he wanted them to come out and perform there; just a spectacle, just gaudy and loud. I tell you we had so much fun. I will never forget that. It was the most fun thing. And I know when it was over Johnny Cash said, "You know, I've not sung at a V.F.W. in twenty-five years" [Thomas laughs] and he sat there and he said, "And I don't think I've had this much fun in twenty-five years" [Beisel laughs]. It was just wonderful, you know, it was just, and talk about just get everybody, everybody in Orange nearly and all around was, you couldn't seat the people, they were like ten deep around the building, it was just speakers outside, it was just absolutely . . .

BEISEL: Oh my goodness.

THOMAS: . . . the showiest, gaudiest thing you could ever, and that's what he wanted. He didn't want one of these sophisticated sit around and sing a few songs. But everybody had a good time, it was wonderful.

BEISEL: Oh, wow.

THOMAS: Yeah. In the '92 campaign we did something different, we didn't have a big star like that. We had Ann Richards [Governor of Texas from 1991-1995] who was really hot at that time, she was really, and she lost her next campaign. But I set up a helicopter tour and we made eight stops in eight counties and everywhere she set down I would have a group of local people who had organized different things that, you know a program while they, now that was really fun.

BEISEL: Oh I bet.

THOMAS: And Ann Richards was an interesting person. Not the nicest person I've ever met in my life and probably one of the bitchiest women I ever tried to be around in my life. And I know at one point, you know, she was just a bitch I don't know how else to say it [Thomas and Beisel laugh]. But Charlie loved her and she loved him but we'd put up with that, you know, and she and I started in the restroom down at, I don't remember which, Orange I think, where we started out and she was rrrrr [mimicking], you know, just going and I thought, "Oh God what an awful," and we go back outside and the people had gathered up and she steps up on that stage and she starts in and I'm telling you I laughed till I almost wet my pants. She was just that, she could just turn it off and on just like that. Isn't that interesting?

BEISEL: Hmm, she understood being in front of the public.

THOMAS: What the people needed. Oh she, she was absolutely unbelievable, he being able to captivate and she was out to help Charlie Wilson and boy she did. We made eight stops and every one she just brought the house down.

BEISEL: Really? So would she give a speech at each place that you went to?

THOMAS: Oh yeah, yeah. And she would, you know, had funny stories about Charlie. Oh she was absolutely magnificent as a speaker, just unbelievable. It's just so interesting, you just wonder how much of the world is really like that.

BEISEL: Right. What happens when the camera . . .

THOMAS: Yeah, when the camera's not rolling [Thomas laughs]. One thing about Charlie, he was always the same, there was no two personalities. He was what he was and he didn't turn it off, no. But he loved her and she loved him and I noticed none of that bad behavior ever surfaced in front of Charlie so he really didn't know that other side and I wasn't about to tell him [Thomas laughs].

BEISEL: I was going to ask you . . .

THOMAS: No, no. I wouldn't have done that to him because he really, and she probably helped get him elected that year, very effective.

BEISEL: Well clearly she felt, she did feel passionate about helping him.

THOMAS: Absolutely. And she was wonderful, she was magnificent. Just interesting [Thomas laughs].

BEISEL: Oh absolutely. Well I hate to cut it off, I know there is more and more but this is a good start. I know there will certainly be more interviews as we keep going forward.

THOMAS: Oh I'm sure. But there's so many people in and from everyone you talk to you'll get a different set of stories, a different Charlie, a different part of his life.

BEISEL: But through that I think we'll start finding the threads of the common themes that keep coming out.

THOMAS: Well the common theme is he loved people and he loved helping people and with all of his wild, crazy ways [Thomas and Beisel laugh], which were so much fun, it was so much fun but bottom line is he loved his people back home and that was what kept him going and I don't think he could have ever been defeated by, however after they, I don't know how that would have turned out.

BEISEL: Right.

THOMAS: But guess it was time to end it.

BEISEL: It was, it was.

THOMAS: Well this has been fun.

BEISEL: Well thank you very much, I really appreciated it.

THOMAS: You are so welcome.

BEISEL: Alright.

END INTERVIEW