The liberal from lufkin has left the building
Legendary Congressman Charlie Wilson dies
Famed Congressman Charlie Wilson, who served as the "Liberal from Lufkin" from 1972-1996, died Wednesday in Lufkin of cardiopulmonary arrest at the age of 76.
According to George Crile's book, Charlie Wilson's War, Wilson fell in love with the American political system when he was 13. After a local city councilman in his hometown of Trinity, Texas, knowingly killed his dog, Wilson managed to procure a hardship driver's license and on election day, offered rides to the polls to black voters. Stopping at the polling station, Wilson would simply say, "I don't want to influence your vote, but Charles Hazard killed my dog." At the end of the day, Wilson had driven 96 people to vote and Hazard had lost by 16 votes.
For Wilson it was the beginning of a long and distinguished career in politics. Elected as a state representative in 1961 at the age of 27, over the next 12 years he made a name in the Texas House and Senate as a fighter for Medicaid, a minimum wage bill and the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1972 he was elected as a U.S. Representative, a position he held until his retirement in 1996.
Wilson had an uncanny knack for political wrangling, but he was also an incorrigible sybarite. In the 1950s, his naval commander said that Wilson was "the best officer who served under me at sea and undoubtedly the worst at port," according to Crile's book. When Speaker Tip O'Neill appointed an unlikely Wilson to serve on the congressional ethics committee, Wilson joked that "It's because I'm the only one on the committee who likes women and whiskey, and we need to be represented, too."
But Wilson was more than just a "Good Time Charlie," the nickname gossip columnists bestowed on him. In the 1980s when his friend, Joanne King Herring, brought the plight of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Army to his attention, Wilson made use of his array of contacts and pivotal position on the House Appropriations Subcommittee of Defense to increase the CIA's Afghan aid budget exponentially, arming and training the mujahideen through covert CIA operatives. After the Soviets were successfully expelled from Afghanistan, Wilson was the first civilian bestowed the CIA's Honored Colleague Award for his efforts, though some of the CIA actions in the region have become more controversial with the rise of Al-Qaeda and the attacks of September 11.
Married in 1999 to Barbara Alberstadt, Wilson lived out his retirement in Lufkin, receiving a heart transplant in 2007. That same year Wilson was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie version of Charlie Wilson's War.
Wilson is survived by his wife Barbara.