The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas on May 13, 1966 · Page 3
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The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas · Page 3

Blytheville, Arkansas
Issue Date:
Friday, May 13, 1966
Page 3
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(Ms.) flsurhr Km - Friday, May tt, MM- Pa* Ant Introducing: Ralph Wilson With a Firm Hold on Both Bootstraps <EDITO*'S •ther In a ifrles of iilorlfil aliont cnurtlni elite, and political ft- •onalltlei IB this ana.) By Jack Baker Staff Writer There's this curious neck- leavy picture of Ralph Wilson in the matchbooks he's been passing out to everybody. The man in the photograph resembles Wilson, all right, but ie's, well, heavy, and Wilson In the flesh is contoured more in the Jimmy Stewart mode. "I photograph heavier than ^ im," Wilson admits. "I guess) It's all right, though, if my campaign pictures make me look like a heavyweight to the voters." Wilson is in the political ring sgain after a 12-year absence. This year he's trying for the position of prosecuting attorney for the Second Judicial District (seven northeast Arkansas counties), the same title which eluded him back in 1954. The somewhat naive young challenger (he was 32 then) was knocked out cold on that first occasion. He remembers ruefully: "Everybody was very nice to me. They kept saying, 'Sure, Ralph, always good to have a new face,' but they all supported somebody else in t h e campaign. 1 got murdered." "They," of course, were the guys with tiie moxie — the political leaders of this end of the state. The novice challenger had imprudently neglected to get assurances of their support. * * « "You always hear politicians saying their friends 'compelled' them to make this or that race," Wilson says. "Well, the only person who 'compelled' me to run that year was me." He hastens to add that he carried home town Osceola by a 7-1 majority over winner Terry Shell. "I've always done pretty well where people knew me," Wilson says. Accordingly, he has used the intervening years to make himself known where it counts. He has busied himself extending his friendships — specifically including those with the power elite. "This year is a different story," he emphasizes. "I did some asking around. I talked to sheriffs and some other power boys in the state. They gave possessed them. World War II was to alter the economic situation profoundly and open tilings up again, but Wilson was gone for nearly a decade anyhow. Even in 1940 $200 was just $200, and Wilson was forced to take a number of part-time jobs to help finance his years at Union. It was a collegiate career not in the tradition of the Andy Hardy movies, and it became less so when it was interrupted for two years of wartime duty. * * * In 1943 Wilson, after training at the U. S. Naval Academy as a 90-day wonder, was shipped out to the Pacific war zone where he served out the war i a lieutenant in the Merchant Marine. ' The experience was by no means an interruption of his career. As he says, "It gave me insights. It trained me." For tie first time in his life, he had been accorded prerogatives—and deference from others. From busboy to leader of men was, for Wilson, a delicious transformation. And then It was all over, and he was a civilian again. Broke. Or not quite broke. Returning servicemen in 1945 had one advantage over their fathers, who had trooped home from previous wars often to become forgotten men in the civilian econ- my. This advantage, officially called the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, was nicknamed "the G. I. BUI" by grateful veterans. Among the most grateful was Ralph Wilson, who was tired of nimble pie and now was after gamier food. After graduation from Union n 1946, Wilson resolved to study aw. But not at just any old ?odunk School of Law. He ap- jlied to Vanderbiit—that arch- conservative citadel of the Southern aristocracy. It was not [he usual school of poor boys. But Vanderbiit, like many of the Ivy League schools, was being swept up in the post-war trend toward democratization 'they murdered* me.' 'things will be different this year.' "We had an awfully rough me," Wilson says. "I took any usiness I could get — which as very little." Wilson was undeterred — he ould make good in Osceola or terally bust. At one point he eceived an offer from a Nash- /ille firm to employ him as a ax specialist, but only at $100 month. "I told them that for 100 a month, I'd starve in my wn home town." This jest, Wilson points out, as very near to being literal ruth. "The spectre of poverty 'as always hovering about," he "They liberal says A loan from the Vanderbiit School of Law and the G. I. Bill were sufficient to finance Wilson's legal studies — but just me the go-aiiead." The moral of this story is, according to Wilson: "A man can't do anything by himself." This is something Wilson must always have suspected, for he is where he is right now largely because of his astuteness in seeking out the right sort of aid throughout his life. * * * He was born in 1921 into a poor farm family and his teen years coincided with the decade of the depression. "About all we couid boast about was the fact that we ate three meals a day," Wilson says. At one point the family was largely sustained by the income he and liis three brothers received as delivery boys in Osceola for the Memphis Press- Scimilar. While serving as a part-time breadwinner, young Ralph managed to keep up with Ms studies and, in 1939, he was one of four honor graduates in a class ofj 30, offered a surprisingly loan policy," Wilson barely. ... 1947, liis second year at Vanderbiit, Wilson attended to an affair of conscience. He had studied income tax procedure by means of a correspondence course, and he exploited this knowledge by serving as a tax consultant in his spare time. What money h« made was strictly budgeted - with priority given to the seven-year-old debt owed his Osceola benefactors. "I paid them off in full thai year," Wilson says. "They hac forgotten really that lowed them anything, but it was some thing I had to do." Sometime in 1948 the young law student was invited to a Gamma Phi Beta sorority par ty It was there he met his princess - the lovely Mary Ann Murry of Nashville. The princess - and - pauper analogy does not hold in the status - conscious Then came the only absolutely fruitless period of his life "I stayed out of school a year, just fooling around, doing odd jobs and wasting time," Wilson remembers AH of this ceased when he hit upon the principle that one way of helping yourself is to get other people to help you. Fired by this inspiration, the 18-year-old talked 1 "som« prominent citizens" (as he calls them) into lending him $200, enough to get him enrolled at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., for the fall term of 1940. These citizens were chosen well. They were Hale Jackson, then sheriff, and Lan Williams and Mrs. Mable Ayers, both wealthy landowners. Wilson's benefactors had several pieces of advice for him, the distillation of which was: "Your greener pastures are elsewhere, son. Osceola is a closed society." The advice was meant not u K plutocratic warning but in another sense, as a kind reminder that the depression had frozen money and opportunity into the handi of Oiceolans who already A' Vanderbiit the Gamma Phi's were con spicuously under - represented by girls from fine (i.e., wealthy old families. Either because of or in spite of this, they were often amoni the school's prettiest and mos intellectually keen coeds - and Mary Ann Murry was a case in point. Wilson courted bis wife-to-be with the same ardor previously demonstrated in his determined pursuit of an education. In 1949 (the "year of fruition,' he calls it), things happened in dramatically swift sequence. In January of that year he set up shop as a practicing at torney in Osceola; in April he married Mary Ann Murry; and in June of that year the new Mrs. Wilson earned her B.A (magna cum laude). The poor boy had made hi way back home, accompanied by a bright and vivacious wif and a good deal of enthusiasm For a while, though, ther seemed to be justice in the warning his benefactors ha " given him back in 1940 warning amplified in 1949 b Oiceola acquaintances of th ays. Wilson did well enough, .hough, to attract admiration or his work — something that esulted in his appointment that ear as Osceola's first city at- orney. Financially the job was not of much aid — it paid all of $30 month — and wife Mary Ann ;as pressed into service as a igh school English teacher that all. Wilson himself was moon- ghting, teaching law classes at ight to ex-G.I.'s. Then in December 1949, Myon Mailling, at that time deputy rosecuting attorney, was killed an automobile accident. The tragedy created a vacancy, nd, since the job was.lucra- ive, many established attorneys jut in bids for it. The man who weighed these bids was Charlie Partlow, an anusual prosecuting attorney. Colorful and crusty, he had be- ome an Arkansas legend through bis imaginative conduct f his office. It was consistent with this reputation for Partlow o appoint the relatively un- mown Ralph Wilson as Mailing's successor. Wilson remembers happily, 'My starvation days were over" The job provided a monthly income of $700 a month — and jxposure to the state's political eaders. All seemed well, but in 1952 Wilson was caught in the middle of some political wheeling- and-dealing in which his erstwhile supporters made him the sacrificial pawn to the benefit of Jim Hyatt, who succeeded im. On January 1, 1953, he was out of a job and had to fall back on his private practice. "But I'd had a chance to develop contacts," Wilson says 'and the poor-boy lawyer circles — the higher the better — will do him a lot of good elsewhere — say, in politics. * * * Wilson is rather vague about his ultimate political plans, but he gets directly to the point about his ambitions in Kiwanis. "I intend to be president of Kiwanis International someday," he says. "But, first, I've got to be elected an International Trustee." He failed in his first bid for his position at last year's Kiwanis convention in New York, when he was one of nine candidates for six trustee posts. "This year things look bet- son extends to his determina- ; hipster, tibn to have both a public and " " stuff was all over. I've done /ery well ever since." (He's done well in more than the fi nancial sense; he achieved national recognition last year when his spirited defense ol :wo boys accused of attempted murder turned up positive proof of their innocence.) Prosperous though he was, he was deeply resentful of the po- itical siwt shrift he'd received whence came the inspiration for his abortive race in 1954. After that crushing defeat, he sublimated his ambitions for public achievement - at least temporarily — into Kiwanis Club work. Wilson is the Wnd of man who can project an image of a once competence and congeman ty. This is a quality as necessary in service club work as it is in politics. He thrived in the happy and conscientious world of Kiwanis affairs. He was elected president of the Osceola club in 1957; lieutenant governor of Division 14 (eastern arkansas) in 1959; and governor of the Missouri- Arkansas district in 1962. Wilson says, "I am proud that I can be of service through Kiwanis work," but h* adds, "Although I didn't get into Kiwanis for persona] or political gam, it certainly hasn't hurt me any." Obviously fucceu to Kiwanis a private life, with neither interfering with the other. When he was Kiwanis governor, for example, he made over a hundred speeches throughout his two-state area, but he was accompanied on these trips by his wife arid, whenever possible, his three children (Ralph, Jr., Terry, and Don). Wherever he goes, in fact, his family is invited along. "I suppose Mary Ann and the children and I are together as much over a 24-hour day as any lamily anywhere," he says. This togetherness extends to his By this is meant that Wilson moves around the fringes of the Jet Set without losing his essential whplesomeness. The fact that he is known to be a devoted family man does not keep him from being considered one of the gayer raconteurs on the cocktail circuit. On a typical evening at Wilson's home, he will entertain a visitor with a saucy Tom Lehrer tiua j^-ai ...... B o ««... ..... .j. nis togeinerness exienas 10 ms er," he says. Other Kiwanians Osceola ]aw O f f j ce| w here Mary nrvcmKnrafa fhlC flno 1T1 3 rifl^l- . ,..-i __' t T-..- corroborate this. One, in a posi- ion to know, rates Wilson's chances as "better than even" it this year's convention in Port and, Oregon. "As a trustee, my chances of becoming president would be roughly one in three," Wilson calculates. This ability to calculate is wedded curiously to Wilson's more venturesome tendencies. "Maybe I'm a gambler," he says. "I'll put myself on the ine, and 1 don't have rabbit ears. But I try always to have something to fall back on." He often puts this sentiment another way: "I believe lean jave my cake and eat it, too." This belief is almost a ruling passion with Wilson, and it is responsible for much ambiguity and paradox in his makeup. Although he is on record as * oser in his most recent ventures in both state and Kiwanis jolih'cs, he exudes the air of a nan on the way up; Although the impression persists among his acquaintances that he is outspoken in his opinions, most of his public statements have been extremely guarded and of the conventional variety. (As he says, "I'm not so outspoken I can't survive;") Although he is an influential and respected member of the relatively conservative First Methodist Church of Osceola, his religious opinions take generously universalist and totally undogmatic slant; 3rd add Wilson Inside HTK Proof to Hank Although he calls himself a "strong Democrat," he adds that he is "both liberal or conservative or neither," and that he makes all political judgments within their context. This paradoxical aspect of Wil- FOR GREENER LAWNS! Ann Wilson serves as her hus- land's secretary. * * » Wilson is at once a settled mall-town man and a compul- ive traveler. "I loye Osceola, jut I also like to zip around he country on a jet," he says. 'Old places, old faces, new aces — they're all exciting!" sonal affairs, too. As one acquaintance and fellow Kiwa- nian says, "Ralph is what you might call a Pepsi generation fertHome LATED WON in Arkansas." The personal attractiveness of both Wilsons will doubtless be a great factor in his race for district prosecutor. His main opponent, Gerald Pearson of Jonesboro, is by all accounts a competent but colorless man. "In this kind of contest," Wilson says, "there are no real is- * * He is cautious, and, once viauui wiui a aauy-y Aum «""*-* j|g IS C3UUOUS, ana, OnCc recording, laugh uproariously at I g gaiD) amDiguous about ques- the ric/iilp njtrts and tjl£n SOme- A: — _—_..:_.• t— t-,., A«fAv«A. the risque parts, and then somewhat later speak movingly of the need for morality in American life. And there is no t o u c h of hypocrisy in the whole performance. Likewise, non-smoker Wilson has never been seen drunk, but he keeps one of the best-stocked liquor cabinets in Osceola. A Blytheville attorney who is noted for the acid quality of his opinions said last week of Wilson: "This guy has done a cou- tions accruing to law enforcement. "I believe that not all criminals can be rehabilitated, but that a good many can. I think that a prosecuting attorney should try to strike an Aristotelian mean between concepts of leniency and sternness.'' Wilson has, in fact, not yet come to that point in his career when he must publicly decide what issues to espouse and what political roads to take. The path he is headed into is By any standards, it Is a cu> ious journey. Those who makt it are invariably men of humblt beginnings who, upon achieving power and prosperity, begin to profess fear of egalitarian sentiments or, more particularly; fear of governmental ministry lions unto those sentiments. . ] In a sense, this transformation is understandable enough. Men who have "made it" despite all odds might almost automatical, ly view their succes as verification of the principle of "rugged individualism." < It is nevertheless startling to hear a man whose family was destitute during the depression years, possibly for lack of "aid from the public sector, mate statements like the following;!', "I think the government isjafc suming too many responsibilities;" and "The welfare state is a dangerous conception." j" Wilson has a well - rehearsed speech he has made probably hundreds of times on the Kiwanis circuit. It is intended to 'inspire and it goes something likt this: "The civilizations of mankind follow inevitably the same cycle. They go from bondage to spiritual faith to courage to freedom to abundance to selfishness and back to bondage." Wilson reckons that we art now in the stage of selfishness. "We are too interested in material things," he says. .-..v. What he will take before the voters in the Democratic primary is a material thing, too: himself. : : . It must be presumed that he hopes a majority of them are interested in that. ;,,^ SOU, 11119 (S U J iiao uuiic a \,vu iiifc. fjMnn *•*• »" «-———— ----- — ».» — UKJ K. -.. ~- o- pie of things that maybe weren't discernible enough, however. It There is ambiguity in his per- real Kosher, but if he isn't a|is a well-trodden one, and has , f f _ • ,_ *_ p;» V-l-UaJ than fce'o a Hamn hnrno . tllA fnntstpnS Or A Whole Sir Galahad, then he's a damn near thing." He added: "And, besides that, he's got the best looking wife]Nixon. borne the footsteps of a whole string of self-made man from Alexander Hamilton to Richard CLOSE-OUT ON INTERIOR PAINT All Colon $2.50 gal. MALOUF'S : :-. 117 South 2nd Street--•.• ^^ ,wrt* ,x\^ *'* \#- A c«npf«t«, orfMtic-base *Mt food wtk olietoted hen (foTRMCm) KkM — I K. per 100 Ita. Cootrafc ton cttloro.* (ffHMrini at gam •MI Mi*fi) <rm tone P«to<l So. Hi-Way 61 Open Sunday Afternoon Bynim Hdw. & Seed 118 E. Main Open Nightly 'til 9 p.m. Open 'til Noon Sunday Wier "6V 1 MOTOR CO., Highway 61 7 North

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