Interviewers' Names: Archie P. McDonald, Judy McDonald, Paul J. P. Sandul.
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted in the summer of 2011 at Susan Walker's home in Austin, Texas.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Judy McDonald, Archie P. McDonald's wife, sat in on the interview and asked several questions. For clarity's sake, she is identified as JUDY in the transcription. Unfortunately, she was positioned rather far from the recorder and some of her statements and questions cannot be made out.
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 interviewers Archie P. McDonald, Judy McDonald, and Paul J. P. Sandul are identified as MCDONALD, JUDY, and SANDUL, respectively. Susan Walker is identified as WALKER.
MCDONALD: First off, thank you for letting us come to visit with you about Charles Wilson. I'm Archie McDonald. I'm a historian at Stephen F. Austin State University. And we are in Austin in the home of Susan Walker who worked with Charlie when he was in the Texas Senate and then at the time of his election to the House of Representatives. And I think we'll just start right there. How did you meet Charlie Wilson?
WALKER: After I graduated, I graduated from UT [University of Texas at Austin], and I went and ran around Europe a little bit, and came back and decided to work in the Texas legislature for a while. And I'm from a little town in north Texas, Vernon, TX. And our state senator's a great guy named Jack Hightower who, you know, my family knew really well. So I went to see Jack. And Jack had his staff full but he called Charlie and Charlie had an opening and so I went and got a job with Charlie.
MCDONALD: And this was in 196-
WALKER: This was in 19--, probably around January of '71.
MCDONALD: Okay. So he's just getting ready to run for Congress.
WALKER: Yes. Well, maybe it was '70, then. Because I worked for him for, you know, a good, I think, year and a half probably.
MCDONALD: Okay, yeah, well it probably would have been '70.
MCDONALD: Because he ran for Congress first in 1972.
WALKER: Yeah, right. Because I went over and worked. I lived in the Holiday Inn in Lufkin, TX, for three months . . .
WALKER: . . . helping to run that first campaign for Congress.
MCDONALD: Well I and you probably met then, as a matter of fact . . .
MCDONALD: Let's start with the Senate years.
MCDONALD: What were some of the primary things that Charlie was involved in Texas politics when you went to work for him in 1970?
WALKER: Oh, gosh, who's that, well Ben Barnes was [Texas] lieutenant governor. Bob Bullock, I think Bullock was . . . I remember one crucial vote, I guess it was for Bullock being appointed to, what would it have been? The insurance . . .
MCDONALD: Secretary of State, maybe, or insurance commissioner [Bullock was appointed to Secretary of State on September 1, 1971 and Texas Comptroller in 1975].
WALKER: Yeah. One of those during that time. Because I remember that was sort of a big vote because, you know, some of this, I just kind of can't remember exactly. But it was, you know, Charlie was voting for the confirmation and then he gets a visit from Ben Barnes five minutes before he goes down to the floor. And Barnes walks out and Charlie goes to the floor. And I said, "What was that meeting all about, Charlie?" And he says, "Oh, it was nothing, it was nothing. You know, Barnes just talking about these airline stewardesses we used to hang with. Blah, blah, blah." And I said, "Charlie, are you changing your vote on Bullock?" I said, "Don't you dare." Anyway though, long story short, is he did vote for him, for his confirmation. And yes, he had been tried to talked out of it. And he was so upset because he was so torn with loyalty. Charlie was very loyal . . .
WALKER: [Laughs] That somebody told me that he went to the senate men's room and threw up after the vote.
MCDONALD: Well, I've never known that side of him. He was involved in a great many things in state politics before he ever went to Austin, up to Washington.
MCDONALD: A lot of people don't know, for example, that he introduced the sales tax and was one of the people who got it through because of the great need for revenue…
WALKER: Did he do that when he was in the Senate?
MCDONALD: In the [Texas] House.
WALKER: In the House. Yeah.
MCDONALD: That was under Price Daniel [Governor of Texas from 1957-1962].
MCDONALD: In the Senate, he was involved, among other things, in some of the preservation activity for the Big Thicket.
MCDONALD: And sometimes he was opposed to it and sometimes he was for it. You remember any of that controversy?
WALKER: I don't. I don't remember any of that. But I'm sure if there was anything he was opposed to he was talked out of it by Big Pops [Arthur Temple, Jr., owner of Temple Industries, a large lumber operation in East Texas, and Wilson's employer while he was in the Texas legislature], don't you think?
MCDONALD: Well. Of course he was very close with Arthur Temple.
MCDONALD: Temple was opposed to the concept of Ralph Yarborough [US Senator from Texas from 1957 to 1971] for a park.
MCDONALD: Which would've been a great big expansive thing.
WALKER: I don't remember that. Right.
MCDONALD: And Charlie was instrumental. On the other hand, there probably wouldn't have been anything if not Charlie. So he's on both sides of the thing. Well let's get on to the [US congressional] campaign [in 1972] then.
MCDONALD: Because you probably have some memories from that first race when he was running against Mrs. [Johnnie] Dowdy [former US Representative John Dowdy's wife; John Dowdy resigned amid bribery charges and served prison time].
WALKER: That's right, that's right. You know, I mean if something triggered my memory, I might have some more vivid ones. I don't, Ian, what was his name, who was officially the campaign manager? Do you remember this?
MCDONALD: I knew Ian. In fact we had him…
WALKER: Well Ian and I worked together.
SANDUL: Oh, Ian Foley.
WALKER: Yes. Yes. Exactly. And we were in a little trailer house parked behind the Holiday Inn. It was Charlie's first official campaign headquarters for US Congress. And I traveled a lot around East Texas with Jerri, Charlie's first wife, who we called Goose. A very elegant, classy lady.
MCDONALD: Why did she have that name?
WALKER: I don't know where that name ever came from. You know, we never called her anything but Goose. I'm sure it was a nickname that Charlie came up with, don't you imagine?
MCDONALD: Well how, how, now, did he ask you to come to Lufkin to do that?
MCDONALD: To do that. You were living in Austin, otherwise, but you . . .
WALKER: Yes. Yes.
MCDONALD: . . . went over there for that period of time.
WALKER: I went over, actually, you know, seems like a lot of things I did with Charlie were three-month stints, because after he was elected, we, I badgered him a lot about his votes on certain issues. And so he, when he was elected to Congress, he jokingly said, "Now I don't have to put up with you anymore. You know I'm gone" and I laughed and said, "Perfect." And so he gets up there and he calls me and he, like, I don't know after about a week or so and he said, "This just kills me but I'm going to have to have you for three," but he said, "I have to have you come up here and help me but I can only stand you for three months" [laughter]. "But I will pay you an exorbitant amount of money if you will come for three months and just help me hire and set up and sort of train." So I did, I went up and did it.
MCDONALD: Now was Charles Simpson [Wilson's first Administrative Assistant in Washington] with you at that time?
WALKER: No. No. He wasn't there yet, which is why he needed, ff Charlie Simpson had been there he wouldn't have needed me.
MCDONALD: Did you know Louise, then? She worked for Charlie before the election.
MCDONALD: Louise Simpson.
MCDONALD: She, of course, is Charles Simpson's wife.
MCDONALD: Charles was the first Administrative Assistant . . .
MCDONALD: . . . that Wilson had in Washington and was with him for twelve years.
WALKER: That's right.
MCDONALD: And Louise worked, she may have worked exclusively there in the district.
MCDONALD: I would've thought you all might've had some . . .
MCDONALD: . . . opportunity. Did you know Charles Simpson?
WALKER: I certainly did. You know, when I was working for Charlie in the state senate, he was the Secretary of the Senate.
MCDONALD: Different Simpson, then. The Simpson that I'm talking about was a political science teacher at Stephen F. Austin [State University].
WALKER: Oh. Who am I talking, I'm talking about Charlie Schnabel.
MCDONALD: Schnabel. Yeah.
MCDONALD: Schnabel was the second Administrative Assistant, too. He succeeded Simpson.
WALKER: Gotch-you. You know, I can't remember if he was there or not. Did he, did he go up right after Charlie was elected?
MCDONALD: Pretty soon, yes.
MCDONALD: He had to finish the semester . . .
WALKER: Oh, well I bet it wasn't. I'll be that was my little interim, then. Yeah.
MCDONALD: . . . at Stephen F. Austin and then he came on up. And you all probably, you go on in December, then, to get ready?
WALKER: It was in the winter, so it must've been. No, I didn't get there till after he had already been. He, you know, he'd already had, had tried to set up an office, I think, and so I was, I was probably there a week or two after he was already in the office building up there. Uh-huh.
MCDONALD: Later in the Longworth building and then others after that. Well, let's talk about being in Washington with him, then. What all did you do?
WALKER: Well I helped him hire staff, you know, and helped train those that were there and, you know, went to, with him on some of his committee assignments and things. And had a fabulous time in DC. The first day that I got up there, cause literally he called me one day and wanted me up there the next, so I had no plans made. I got on a plane and landed and the only person I really knew up there at that time was a writer named Larry King. And so I called Larry from Dulles Airport and I said, "You're not gonna believe this but I'm in DC. Come up there to work for three months. I have no idea, you know, where to go. Just tell me a hotel that would be near where I have to be tomorrow morning." And he said, "Well you just need to get in a cab and come over to my place and we'll figure it out from then." So I went over to Larry's apartment and walked in and there was [US Representative from Arizona (1961-1991)] Moe and Ella Udall and [US Representative from Texas (1967-1981)] Bob and Nadine Eckhardt. And the guys were watching football or something and Ella Udall and Nadine were sitting over on the side and, I mean, after about three or four hours, I loved those women. And we had giggled and had so much fun. And I ended up moving in for about two or three weeks with Bob and Nadine Eckhardt while I looked for a place to live.
MCDONALD: I elected Bob Eckhart as my congressman because I had John Dowdy [Walker laughs]. I lived in his district and I didn't agree with him very much.
WALKER: Bob was a great guy.
MCDONALD: So Bob Eckhart from Houston was much more to my liking politically, so I just started supporting him.
WALKER: And what a character.
MCDONALD: He was my congressman, yeah.
WALKER: He rode that bicycle to the Hill every day.
MCDONALD: And the most intellectual of all the congressmen of that era.
WALKER: Yeah. It was an interesting house to be in, you know, because he had all these constitutional lawyer friends, you know, that would come over for dinner or cocktails, or, you know, and there was always, it was fascinating. You know, what a fun thing, you know, to be with Moe and Ella Udall and Bob and Nadine Eckhart at that time in the early seventies in DC.
MCDONALD: That's getting into the fast, the fast time real quick.
WALKER: It was pretty quick. But, you know, as far as, I don't really remember, you know, that many memorable things. You know, Charlie was thrilled to death to be on the formal relations committee. You know, that was his dream, you know. I just think it's fascinating where it all ended, you know, that here we are every night in the news talking about Afghanistan.
WALKER: Oh my god, it is just amazing to me. And I always go back to, you know, the movie that I thought was so well done, Charlie's War [Charlie Wilson's War].
JUDY: Did you read the book [George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War]?
WALKER: Uh-huh, which was fantastic.
JUDY: And we listened to the book on tape, which was just, it was wonderful. Did you think that that was pretty much what, the Charlie you knew?
WALKER: Yes. You know, Charlie was very, very idealistic and very conscientious. And, you know, this whole Good Time Charlie thing, you know, was, you know, a lot of cover for a pretty deep guy. Really.
MCDONALD: Let me say for the tape that the other voice coming in here periodically is Judy McDonald who also knew Charlie from the late sixties, early seventies, both in political capacities as well as personal capacities. And also in the room is Paul Sandul who is the director of the oral history project at SFA on Charlie Wilson, and some others as well. So we may hear more voices than just the two of us on those who may be hearing the tape at a later time.
WALKER: Would you go back to Afghanistan, I just want to say one thing. You know, at the end of that movie, that great last scene where he's going before the congressional committee and asking for one million dollars, one million dollars to build schools. Think what a difference that that, think, just, all the billions of dollars that we've spent there and think what that would have if Charlie had gotten that, that one thing done.
MCDONALD: That's about a minute's worth of expense.
WALKER: Oh. Oh. Good lord.
MCDONALD: Not to mention lives.
WALKER: Yeah. Yeah.
MCDONALD: Well who were some of the other fascinating people that you met in your three months in Washington? You started off with a big splash.
WALKER: I started off with a big splash. I do remember, you know, I see people now occasionally, well, like the whole Charlie Rangel thing, right [Rangel is a current US Representative from New York, serving since 1971].* And I remember this little restaurant that, you know, we would go lunch to occasionally, or, you know, and Charlie Rangel was there. It was his first term in Congress, too, I believe. And, you know, we'd go for lunch and then we'd go back to work and then we'd come back, you know, have a drink after work and Charlie Rangel would still be sitting there at the same table. I mean, he made, at that point, you know, he made Charlie Wilson seem like really, extremely conscientious as far as a new congressional member, when you think what he was doing. What other people? No, I can't think of anybody.
[*Rangel faced a bevy of charges that eventually resulted in him being found guilty by the House Ethics Committee and a vote for censure by the House. Among other things, Rangel was accused of soliciting donations to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York from corporations with business interests before the Ways and Means Committee he chaired; that he rented apartments at below-market rates from a contributor; that he failed to report income from his rental of a beachside villa he owns in the Dominican Republic; his defense of tax shelters for contributors approved by his Ways and Means Committee; and unreported assets and income.]
JUDY: Speaker of the House was [Sam] Rayburn, still?
MCDONALD: No. Rayburn died in '62 [November 1961]. So, he would've gone a good deal by then.
JUDY: Tip O'Neill [who served as Speaker from 1977 to 1987]?
MCDONALD: It was John McCormick, I think, still [McCormick was Speaker from January 10, 1962 - January 3, 1971; he was succeeded by Carl Albert who served as Speaker from January 21, 1971 - January 3, 1977]. Although Tip O'Neill is just about to come in, he's not too much longer.
WALKER: When he come in, 73?
MCDONALD: Well, he, yeah, the big partnership that Charlie had with leadership was with Tip O'Neill, Thomas P. O'Neill from Massachusetts. But John McCormick succeeded Rayburn and then he was grooming Tip O'Neill and Tip O'Neill then groomed Jim Wright [Speaker from 1987 to 1989]. So that's, when the Democrats were in control, that's the, the succession of leadership in the House. Jim and Charlie were never close, but he and Tip were very, very close, Charlie and Tip were very, very close. And that was really the, the sum of Charlie's ability to get a lot of things done, is that Tip was behind him, not publicly, but behind him so that Senator Long, I mean congressman [Clarence "Doc"] Long from California [served from Maryland; born in Indiana] who chaired the Appropriations Committee [Chairman of the subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the House Appropriations Committee], would go along with Charlie's…
WALKER: Requests later on [unintelligible] . . .
WALKER: I'm sorry that I missed that.
MCDONALD: Folly as they called it in Afghanistan.
MCDONALD: Yeah. I'm just trying to think who else might've been prominent. And what I'm leading up to in my question is, how was Charlie received in Washington by these other first-termers like Charlie Rangel, and others?
WALKER: I think very well. Remember, I was only there for a very short time, you know. And actually, you know, was really just with Charlie, you know, during the, you know, during the office hours. I mean, I don't really remember much. I think he and Jerry were, you know, getting set up in their living thing. I really did not socialize that much, you know.
MCDONALD: Well, who all did you help him hire, then, there?
WALKER: I don't remember the girls exactly, but I hired Al Reinert who was an old friend of mine for his press secretary at the time. Al wrote, ended up writing Apollo 13.* He was a Texas Monthly writer, was a great Texas writer. He actually, cause he stayed with Charlie I don't know how long, I mean certainly at least a year or more after that. But I don't specifically remember, you know, the other staff that was hired. It wasn't anybody that we brought in from Texas like Al or anything.
[*Al Reinart is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. As Walker mentions, he co-wrote the screenplays for Apollo 13 (not coincidently enough, starring Tom Hanks) and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. He also famously directed and produced For All Mankind, an Award-winning documentary about NASA's Apollo program.]
MCDONALD: Most of them were hired, then, from the Washington labor pool. They were not brought in from the district.
MCDONALD: Later there were some, who specific, like Larry Murphy for example, I don't know if you ever met Larry, but Larry was from East Texas and he had a naval career.
MCDONALD: He was a captain in the navy. And when he retired he worked for Charlie.
JUDY: Peyton Walters [Wilson's District Manager and then third and final Administrative Assistant].
MCDONALD: And Peyton Walters. Now Peyton was from East Texas. And, course, [Charlie] Simpson was in a way, he's really a West Texan but he was living in East Texas when he and Charlie connected.
WALKER: Yeah. I was, you know, it was a pretty short time. It was a pretty short stay.
MCDONALD: Did you meet the Temples while you were working for him?
WALKER: Oh, good heavens, yes.
MCDONALD: Well tell us about your impressions of Arthur Temple [Jr.].
WALKER: Oh, god, I loved him. What a great guy. You know, and he was such a father figure to Charlie, you know, I think. A father Charlie never really had. And, yeah, I mean I had a lot of respect for Big Pop [Temple]. And thought, you know, of all that, you know, I never saw him really put, you know, I, not that I would have, but, you know, there was never any political pressure or anything that was put on Charlie, I don't think. And from that respect, you know. I think, you know, part of the thing that I had train people, though, for was, you know, you find Charlie when Big Pop calls [laughs]. Go get him off . . .
JUDY: None of this, "I'll have him call you back."
WALKER: Go get him off the floor, yeah.
JUDY: He didn't do it often, did he?
WALKER: Well, actually, no, he didn't. I actually kidded Charlie and said that's the whole reason he had to bring me up was so that I could let people know [laughs] when he needed to talk to Big Pop. But I think, you know, that it was a lot more than, I think they were really, really, very close . . .
MCDONALD: Just what are your personal, just react personally to Charlie, what do you think about him as an individual?
WALKER: I think he was, you know. You know I was thinking, you know, when you read the movie, the book, there was so much made of the girls and everything. But, you know, I never really saw that much of that with Charlie. And when I was with him, he was always married to Goose, you know, who was so pleasant. And you look back now and you see Barbara, you know, his last wife, who is enormously classy and intellectual and, you know, the whole thing, and you see that's the Charlie, you know, those are the women that, you know, that he loved. [JUDY makes a statement far from the recorder and not picked up well enough to make out here]
WALKER: Yeah. Exactly. And the rest of it, I don't know, I'm no psychologist. I mean, I have no idea why, you know, whether he didn't get to have all his fun like a lot of us did when we were teenagers and in college, you know, so he did it at that point in his life, I have no earthly idea. But, you know, he did, he did have a good time.
MCDONALD: One friend said that with Charlie it was all in the romance. That he enjoyed the courtship phase, so to speak, more than what comes afterwards.
MCDONALD: Whatever comes afterwards, whatever kind of liaison you have.
MCDONALD: You think that's pretty close?
WALKER: I have no idea. You know, I really don't have any idea. I really never saw Charlie's intimate times with anybody. So I wouldn't have a clue. I mean, I saw, you know, I know that, like our office in the [Texas] Senate, you know, it was cocktail hour, you know, and all the most interesting people sort of were around Charlie. And I'm sure that that eventually happened in Washington. You know, when I was in the senate it was, you know, Don Canard and Joe Christie and Babe Swartz and all these great liberal Democrats, you know, that, that were terribly interesting to be around.
MCDONALD: And pretty scarce these days.
WALKER: Yeah, it's . . .
MCDONALD: Like any of those people you mentioned.
WALKER: No I don't think, I think that was a day that was gone. And then I lived, at the time, which I started working for Charlie in the Senate, I met an ended up living with Richard West, who was [both Speaker of the Texas House (1965-1969) and Texas Lt. Governor (1969-1972) during Wilson's time in the Texas Senate] Ben Barnes' press secretary and who later was one of the first writers for Texas Monthly. And so we had a house right over here on, basically, 15th and Lamar on this little show creek street and it sort of became where, when the legislature was in session, you know, all the Neill, Dean, the, you know, Canard, all those people would drop by. And then also because of Richard and Texas Monthly, all the writers were sort of there and it's sort of where they came up with the, what do they call them, the dirty forty or whatever it was in . . .
JUDY: Dirty Thirty [the name given to thirty members of the 1971 Texas House of Representatives who grouped against Speaker of the House Gus Mutscher and other Texas officials charged in a bribery-conspiracy investigation by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission].
WALKER: . . . in Texas Monthly, and all, and it was really, really fun, exciting. There were a lot of . . . but you know, Charlie, you know, I think that's it, I think, you know, I think people knew. I think, you know, he didn't attract, you know, he wasn't around stupid people, or at least I never saw him around. And I wasn't, you know, I wasn't there with the belly dancers and the other things. So I just never saw that.
JUDY: What were his passionate interests, issues?
WALKER: Well, you know, communism, right?
JUDY: He hated it.
WALKER: He hated communism. He just grew up in that, you know, in that era. What an interesting story, right, you know, how that came. And, of course, the naval academy, you know. I mean, he was so proud of that. And, you know, he was such a good, he loved his constituents. I know that from working for him. He really, really cared about taking care of them. I mean, that's one thing that I know. And really respected. Not that there was anything that came in, nobody, no phone call didn't get returned, you know. No, he went to major efforts. I mean, he had people on his staff, I know that's what we set up, that just dealt. And I know that all congressional offices do that, but it was very important to Charlie.
MCDONALD: Not very many do it as thoroughly as he did.
MCDONALD: And I think, probably, it was a key to his longevity . . .
MCDONALD: . . . in Congress, as he built up such a reservoir of friends for whom services had been provided.
MCDONALD: Which is after . . .
WALKER: That's right. And they, you know, then in turn, they forgave him for a lot. I think by East Texas terms, don't you? You know, he was sort of, I don't think he was that bad. I mean, you know, Charlie never did, I mean, you know, if he ever did anything illegal it was the, you know, the Afghan . . . which was huge, and actually, I guess it was not so illegal.
JUDY: Well he was single. He wasn't somebody running around on his wife, which is what we see so much of now.
WALKER: Right, exactly.
JUDY: But his passions . . . I heard him say one time that he'd never been on the wrong side of either a woman's vote, votes for women . . .
WALKER: Uh-huh. Yes.
JUDY: . . . or votes for minorities.
JUDY: Was he that way when he was in the [Texas] House?
WALKER: Well when, I didn't know him in the [Texas] House.
JUDY: I'm sorry, in the [Texas] Senate.
WALKER: You know, in the Senate, yes, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. I always felt like, you know, Charlie, I, you know, the only time I ever disagreed, and I'm pretty liberal, but the only time I ever disagreed with any vote was when he was gonna vote against . . . Bullock, the only time I really had to throw a fit.
JUDY: Was that because Bullock was . . .
WALKER: No it was because Ben Barnes did not want Bullock in that appointment.
JUDY: And that was because of personal . . .
WALKER: I have no idea. But it was a big thing. I just remember it being, and a very close vote. I think Charlie's was the deciding vote on that.
MCDONALD: Bullock was busted. The first time, he didn't get it. But when he was first nominated.
MCDONALD: And that was something that he had sore feelings about the rest of his life.
MCDONALD: So it was, it may have even been that vote, I don't know cause I wasn't there, but I know that was one of the sore points that Bullock had.
MCDONALD: I like Bob Bullock myself. Although I've not yet forgiven him for putting the stamp of approval on George Bush. But, that's political preference, I guess. And I wish that he hadn't have gotten his feelings hurt and pushed through that amendment about the income tax.
WALKER: What was that?
MCDONALD: Well, Bullock wanted the state income tax when he was lieutenant governor. And he proposed it and, of course, that's the fighting words in Texas politics. And so when he . . .
WALKER: And this was when Ann [Richards] was governor [1991-1994]?
MCDONALD: . . . when he was Lieutenant [Governor], yeah.
MCDONALD: And then he got, when [George W.] Bush became governor, he decided, I don't know exactly why, but he pushed through a constitutional amendment that there would never be a state income tax in the absence of a popular vote. And that was a one hundred percent reversal . . .
WALKER: No kidding.
MCDONALD: . . . position that he had taken earlier. And that's still law. That's still . . .
WALKER: What do you think that was? Political pressure, or?
MCDONALD: I have no idea. You knew Bob better than I did. I knew him a little bit and I knew he could be cantankerous.
MCDONALD: So I don't know if he just got his feelings hurt and he said, "Alright, by god, I'll show you."
MCDONALD: "That's what you want, I'm going to cram it down your throat."
WALKER: Yeah. That's Bob.
MCDONALD: Or what.
MCDONALD: But, he's the one, he's the one that makes the law as it is today, was regarding that.
WALKER: Well good for him.
MCDONALD: Yeah, good for him [laughter].
MCDONALD: Well, I wish we didn't have such a horrendous sales tax myself, but anyway.
WALKER: I wish we didn't have such horrendous property taxes.
MCDONALD: Yeah, well, in Austin you've got a problem . . .
WALKER: I just went and protested mine yesterday and won. I mean, not as much as I wanted, but, you know, I go every year.
MCDONALD: Good for you.
WALKER: I truck down there every year. Gracious.
MCDONALD: Any, just, parting memories of Charlie you want to . . .
WALKER: You know, I just, I think I sort of said what I wanted to say. Just, like I said, you know, I'd just be repeating myself I think. Just the thing about, you know, about the women and Charlie, "Good Time Charlie" is a, you know, something I don't think that, I mean, I think Charlie carried it well. But that was definitely not the essence of Charlie Wilson that I knew.
MCDONALD: There's definitely a serious side to him. Most people are unaware of how deeply read he was.
WALKER: Yes. Exactly.
MCDONALD: In literature
WALKER: Loved Winston Churchill. Yes. Yes.
MCDONALD: Paul [Sandul], anything you want to?
SANDUL: Yeah. About the Good Time Charlie image.
SANDUL: How, as working for him, this is a two-part question, working for him, was that ever issue, or how did you feel about it as, as somebody working for him? And then the other is, is do you think he used that image cautiously, strategically, as a way to perhaps disarm political enemies, to take him lighter, or for some purpose, or he just . . .
WALKER: Boy. I don't know. That's an interesting thought, though. We said he was deep, I don't know if he was that deep. But, you know what, I never saw it interfere with Charlie's work. You know, it never was, you know, he wasn't an alcoholic or anything, you know, at least not when I knew him. Now I knew him earlier, and I think maybe by the time that he finally had to start drinking and he had problems in DC it might've been different. But the times that I worked for him and knew him, it was, it was literally just, you know, good time, just, he just did it after work, to have a good time. You know, he was always very, you know, he was never that drunk, I don't think. I didn't see him drunk that much. But, you know, it just, it was always fun, positive, and up and, you know, interesting. Like I said, he always had interesting people around him, you know, the times I was there. There were always smart people so, you know. Smart people drunk are, you know, fun. Dumb people not so much.
SANDUL: You know, thinking of East Texas, and you're talking about taking care of the home folk and the constituency, and thinking about East Texas, about the racial issue and about voting on women's rights, here we have a, I guess what you would call a yellow, well a blue dog nowadays, but a yellow dog, social liberal, how, what do you think made him so successful for East Texas to vote for him?
WALKER: I don't know. You know, I think Charlie always thought that the, you know, that the older people would always vote for him, it was like he was always their son, you know, their sort of adopted son that they, you know, would put up with his stuff as long as he took care. But he always, that's the thing, you know, he always, that was a huge part of what he and his office, what he, what he cared about and what his office was to pay attention to, you know, were, you know, solving any problems that his constituents had. Don't you think that is enough?
JUDY: When you dealt with him, did he get a lot of calls and requests from people outside his district to do, to help?
WALKER: Not that I was aware of. [JUDY makes a statement far from the recorder and not picked up well enough to make out here]
WALKER: Not when he was in, not, not the senate. And like I said I was there for such a short time in DC, you know, that . . . I mean, I remember, though, it was, I think it was exciting for East Texas when he first when up there, right, cause I do remember, even the short time I was there, you know, how many people we were getting passes for, his constituents that would come up to, you know, tour the White House or tour the Capital or whatever, you know, they wanted, which was, you know, also a perk and a priority. Oh, he was so happy to be up there looking across the Potomac every day. He was, he was, that's exactly where he needed to be. And I went up, I, we were not able to go to the ceremony at Arlington [for Wilson's funeral], which I was really sorry to miss because what, that's exactly, I knew that's exactly where Charlie, you know, would want to be. Anybody that knows Charlie knows that, right? I mean, he was just so proud of his service in the navy and, obviously, in the, in Congress. And so we went last, we were up in DC last November, and I called Barbara and told her that I wanted to go see Charlie's grave in Arlington. So we met at Arlington and she walked me over there. I was just like, I was so moved. And you know that there is like one pine tree in Arlington, and his, this is true, and his tombstone is right below that pine tree. How perfect is that? With the Potomac out there I'm like "Well, how fitting."
MCDONALD: Yeah he belonged there.
WALKER: He did.
JUDY: The story about, and you need to tell it cause you're the one that told it to me, about the geese flying at his funeral.
WALKER: Oh. [JUDY makes a statement far from the recorder and not picked up well enough to make out here]
WALKER: Did you go up to Arlington?
MCDONALD: No I did not, but Charles Simpson told me that they, they had the regular military kind of proceedings. And then just at the time there would have been a flyover, that a bunch of geese flew, that lived there, took off and flew directly over them and one of them was out of formation.
JUDY: And then, when they lowered him . . .
JUDY: . . . the geese flew back.
MCDONALD: Yeah they flew back.
JUDY: And they said it was scary.
WALKER: You have got to be kidding.
JUDY: And we heard that, you heard it from Simpson, I heard it from . . .
WALKER: Oh my goodness.
JUDY: . . . somebody else who was there who said, "I could not," oh it was the woman at the NPR special, and she said, "I could," she volunteered, she had gone, she says, "I was in the back, too far back to even hear the pastor," or whatever else was going on, but she said when they were playing Taps, the geese flew over . . . and she said then when they lowered him in . . .
WALKER: That just gives me goosebumps.
JUDY: Oh, she said, "But I'm telling you," she said, "That was frightening."
WALKER: Oh wow. Wow. You know, I think Charlie thought that, you know, I think he was always sorry that he had that transplant, you know.
JUDY: The heart transplant.
WALKER: Uh-huh, uh-huh. That he just never, you know, was right after it, and never felt his old self and, you know, who knows.
JUDY: How is Barbara?
WALKER: Not good. Not good. I mean, you know, she's a strong lady but she goes to that cemetery every single day. I mean, she's just devastated. They loved each other so much. They were such, it was, it was, I'm so happy that they had that, that Charlie had that at the end of his life again, you know, somebody who really cared for him, for who he was.
JUDY: And that he could give back to.
WALKER: And he did. I mean, he just, there was, that was a beautiful, beautiful love story. And, you know, like I said, he, I thought that and Jerry had such a nice love story, too, at the beginning. You know, so he had such great women, you know, at the beginning and at the, and no wonder he always stood up so much for women's rights. He knew some good ones.
JUDY: How did he meet Barbara?
WALKER: He was, there was some, she's a ballerina, she was a ballerina in D.C. or she was teaching, I can't remember what. But Charlie came and spoke at some fundraiser that they had. And she said that she heard that this Texas congressman was coming and she was, you know, like sort of rolling her eyes and she said the minute he walked in, she was just, "Who is that?" Blown away. And I think that they, you know, and of course saw her and went, "Wow." And I think it happened pretty fast and furious after that. But they were, I mean the fact that she, you know, East coast girl moved to Lufkin, TX. That's where Charlie wanted to be.
MCDONALD: They had dated earlier and then got back together.
WALKER: Oh really?
MCDONALD: At the end, yeah.
WALKER: Oh, okay. I didn't, you know more than I do [laughs].
SANDUL: What was the nature, how often were you in communication with Charlie? You obviously kept up a friendship. What was, were you visiting or is it mainly phone conversations?
WALKER: You know, during the whole time that he was doing the whole, the thing that I read about in Charlie's War [Charlie Wilson's War], I was not really in contact with him. I went up for his sixtieth birthday. He had a big sixtieth birthday in DC and I went up for that, and saw him there. But, and then, you know, I would talk to him occasionally or he came to Austin, we would have lunch. But, you know, no more than once every two years or so, if that. And then, you know, toward the end when he moved back to Lufkin we were in phone conversation more and certainly when he was getting the transplant and was sick, you know, definitely I was, you know, checking up on him and calling him afterwards and things. But, you know, you know, not that much. He was in Washington, I was back down here. And actually that was about the time I came back from DC and about a year later met Jerry Jeff [Walker; Walker's husband and celebrated musician]. You know, so life went a total different way then, you know, me caring about politics.
SANDUL: How has that been, going from, you've been associated now with two very famous men, one from politics to now music?
SANDUL: Is there any, this is purely my own interest, that celebrity from politician to musician, is there any differences and similarities that are apparent to you that you could share?
WALKER: No. Not that I think about. I don't think that they're very similar. But, you know, musicians don't pay attention to any detail whatsoever. Well maybe politicians don't either now that I think about it. Maybe they are. That's why they have to have such a good staff. So maybe there are similarities. Yeah. It was just, yeah I never like stopped caring about politics. I mean I've always loved politics my whole life. And I went to, as a matter of fact, went to Jim Roach's, he died about a year ago, this history professor over at UT. And I got to UT and said that I grew up in this little town in west Texas and my government history teachers were always the football coach. Remember those years? Or I think . . . it may still be happening, I don't know . . . But, you know, I didn't learn crap. And I was, you know, it was just enough to tease me. I always wanted to know more and, of course, they didn't know more it was just . . . the book. So I came to UT and Jim Roach, I started taking his government classes and a guy named Leon Tiborski. These two guys practically changed my life. And then I just, I took one course and then I just take everything that they had to offer, you know. And I just got so interested and loved it so much. And, you know, they just put me right into, you know, wanting to work. You know, I was a little Texas girl so I didn't know any more than working in the state capital, right. But then, you know, to get to go to DC and do that. I mean, you know, if I, who knows. So it was fun. But, you know, so I married Jerry Jeff but I still very much cared about politics. And not so much, I cant follow Texas politics right now. It just is too depressing and it's too, I can't, I can't believe it. I can't even believe that these people are running our state trying to change, you know, rewrite the textbooks. And this Board of Education thing is just like, it just makes me ill. I'm just like, and, you know, watching the national politics now is, you know, it's like watching a porn movie [unintelligible]. It's like, are you kidding me? I mean, it's just so . . . sad to watch. But, so, you know . . . what all old people say is, "Thank God I got to be there during the glory days," right, when everyone was smart and had integrity.
JUDY: The older we get the more we feel that way. [To Sandul] You're too young to appreciate that but someday . . .
WALKER: But I do believe that's so true.
SANDUL: It's happening already.
JUDY: Is it?
SANDUL: . . . I'm also curious. So. what kind of environment. What was it, I mean, obviously you're committed to Charlie Wilson because of . . . certain of his politics and then being attracted to his personality. What was his work environment like, though?
WALKER: We worked. We worked. I mean there was, you know, Charlie always had long lunches. You know, he would, you know, take some of the staff out for lunch, you know, for his martini lunches. But, you know, we really worked. There was no, you know, till about four or five o'clock. You know, and then it was open bar in Charlie's office and that's when everybody, you know, his, sort of was, at least here in the Texas senate, was sort of a place to congregate where everybody came. And we had the choice to either stay or not. But, you know, people had to be at work on time. You know, we worked.
SANDUL: What was the relationship between people in the office? Was it congenial? Was it . . .
SANDUL: . . . a good atmosphere?
WALKER: Mm-hmm. Always. You know, I was never . . . I don't think there were ever any problems. And Charlie was easy to work for. You know, if you had a personal problem, you know, he cared about that, you know. And you were sent home or you, you know, could deal with it, or, you know. And, you know, and I don't really remember firing that many people. People came and went. You know, Charlie hired a lot of girls from, you know, daughters of his constituents that would come in for six months or three months or. So it was a lot of, you know, there were a lot sort of revolving. There weren't that many people who were really there for long periods of time. And I wasn't there, probably maybe a year a half here and three months in DC. So I guess I was one of those that just popped in, too.
JUDY: I think that's probably true with all political staff people there. They move around.
WALKER: Right. Right.
JUDY: Here or DC.
WALKER: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
SANDUL: Well thank you.
WALKER: Yeah. You're welcome.
SANDUL: Very, very much. I appreciate it.
WALKER: Nice to talk about Charlie. I don't have, didn't have that much information, but.
SANDUL: No, you did. Very much so.
WALKER: Like I said, it's hard to remember really specific things that long ago for me anymore. A lot of living in between there.
WALKER: But you certainly have a great memory. But that's, that's your job.
WALKER: Right? As a historian.
MCDONALD: Sort of.