Daily Tar Heel (Chapel … /
May 31, 1979, edition 1 /
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By GARY TERPENING
On a wall in Hugh Wilson's home, amid
diplomas, dairy cattle ribbons and political
memorabilia, is a frayed, yellowing cartoon
showing Wilson astride a cow, urging his
reluctant mount to charge a windmill
looming ominously in the distance. Wilson's
mythical foe the state Senate rotation
agreement, which allowed multi-district
counties to make nominations from only one
county was the issue on which he made his
unsuccessful 1970 bid for the state Senate.
By filing his candidacy, Wilson challenged
the legality of the statute.
"I decided to run and test it," he said. "I
was sure it was unconstitutional.
Although Wilson did not get on the ballot,
his efforts were instrumental in abolishing
the rotation agreement. "I didn't . win,
Wilson recalled, "but I got some things
changed, you know. Why didn't they show
me after 1 turned that windmill upside
; Wilson's days of political battles, both
mythical and real, are over. On May 19, he
officially retired as chairman of the Orange
County Democratic Party, an office he had
held since 1976.
Pulling himself from a comfortable, well
worn chair, Wilson walked to his cluttered
dining table and rummaged through a
chaotic pile of paperwork. "Yeah, they gave
me a couple of things, Wilson said as he
probed the disorder. "Ah, here.
He produced a small wooden gavel and a
framed certificate signed by Gov. Jim Hunt.
The gavel, presented by the Orange County
Democratic Party, and the certificate,
presented by Sen. Russell Walker, D
Randolph on behalf of Gov. Hunt and the
state, commemorated over 30 years of
service to the Democratic Party in North
Before his involvement in local politics,
Wilson was active nationally. He registered
as a Democrat in 1932 and was actively
involved in lobbying for Franklin D.
Roosevelt's Lend-Lease bill. "Somehow,"
Wilson said, pausing to reflect on the winter
months of 1940 that he spent in the nation's
capital, "I wound up in the forefront of the
lobby effort. The bill was passed by just one
vote. Without that vote, the war might have
lasted two years longer."
Roosevelt did not personally know
Wilson, but did give the young Democrat an
autographed portrait to show appreciation
for his lobbying efforts. "Roosevelt was a
Navy buff, you know," Wilson said, "so
Admiral Foote got the picture down here.
Hell, Roosevelt didnt know me from
Adam." The portrait hangs proudly, if
somewhat tilted, in Wilson's living room.
Wilson became interested in North
Carolina politics in 1948, when Robert Scott
was basing a successful bid for the
governorship on improvement of state
roads. Wilson, a part-time dairy farmer,
heartily endorsed improvements for farm-to-market
roads that were suggested by
Scott. Since then, Wilson has become
something of a political legend. '
Despite the richness of his own political
career, Wilson is engrossed with the present
and refrains from dwelling on the past, And
of course, a favorite topic is politics.
"We're lucky in our representation, you
know," Wilson said. "Yeah, we have some
right fine fellows in the legislature now."
But he quickly qualified his statement:
"There are also some real jackasses in there.
You name it. Illiteracy, poor reasoning
power it's all there."
Exasperation with the legislature led
Wilson into consideration of the current
impasse in negotiations between UNC and
the Department of Health, Education and
"It seems to me," he said, "HEW is just
trying to make headlines. Tney're caught in a
bind between two lawsuits.
"Elimination of program duplications will
destroy opportunities for both blacks and
whites. The culturally disadvantaged will
suffer if programs are crunched up, you
Wilson leaned forward and his serene,
almost sleepy eyes became dark and intense.
"Put it this way," he said with a trace of
agitation. "The system is loaded against the
black child right now. You're not going to
bring cultures totally together. Not in one
day. Not in 10 days. Not in 10 years.
Eliminating duplication is not the answer.
"Money and facilities that's what the
hell we need. They said we needed 40 million,
now we got it. Maybe that's part of the good
that this HEW thing has done. But as far as
1970 Mac Nelly cartoon courtesy of the Chapel HYA Newspaper
duplication goes, the Federal government
doesn't need to be in on it." ;
The sudden truculence in his voice
subsided, and Wilson casually returned his
body to the sprawl that covered two chairs.
He is a tall, rangy man, and the grace and
power of youth have yet to depart. "Hell," he
said as the dark eyes twinkled, "I'm 68 years
old and I learn something every day. I don't
know what the answers to all these things
"Id hate to be president. The pressure
cooker they live in I dont see how any man
could retain his sanity with it."
Wilson lighted a pipe he had been filling
for a half hour, and after coughing out a
cloud of smoke, embarked on a softer
political tangent. "Some people can grow
with their office," he mused. "Others can
deteriorate, especially if they get to the
booze. Talking politics and drinking all
night can really cause a person to
Recalling his days in Washington, D.C.,
Wilson said piles of small, three- or four
ounce liquor bottles dotted the streets. "The
Jbottles weren't there for no reason," he said.
"In the morning, lawmakers would need a
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little eye-opener after drinking all night, so
they'd add a bottle or two to their coffee.
You can't last too long doing that
Make no mistake, though. Wilson is not
loath to drink, and, in fact, is considered a
regular at Jeffs Campus Confectionery,
where he can often be found sitting on the
bench in the back and sipping a brew. "I've
always liked to have a beer or two downtown
with the boys," he said with obvious
One afternoon some years" ago, Wilson
was drinking beer with Rufus Edmisten, now
state Attorney General. Wilson had recently
discovered he was a "third cousin, once
removed" to Sen. Sam Ervin, and that both
men were distantly related to Richard
Nixon. After learning of the discovery,
Edmisten, who then served as an aide to
Ervin, admonished Wilson not to tell his
boss for fear of Ervin's having a heart attack.
"Well, don't you tell Nixon," Wilson shot
back. "He'd have to be put in a
Wilson's association with Chapel Hill goes
beyond beer and drinking and frequent
"gatherings for a little B.S."The grandson of
Louis Round Wilson, he entered UNC as a
freshman in 1929 and established a
reputation as a tough, gutsy boxer.
"Boxing used to be the second most
popular sport after football, at Carolina, he
said. "Those two were the only
moneymakers. Basketball was used as a
preliminary to the boxing matches.
"I was a prime catcher I got hit a lot and
knocked around the head. 1 was clumsy and
not totally mature, you know." Wilson said
that he stood 6'-6" and weighed 179 pounds
during his three-year stint in the ring.
"I was reading -a lot in school, then,"
Wilson remembered. "It would take me 15
minutes to do my lesson regularly, but in
boxing season, it would take 45.
"It was the punch-drunk syndrome. There
was one fellow who was so tough, you
couldn't hurt him. He could take a blow in
the head that would bend him over
backward and bounce right back up. I think
he's in an asylum now."
Wilson laughed and again lighted his pipe.
Choking on the acrid smoke, he explained he
. had a sore throat and was just getting over a
cold. When he was out of earshot, his wife,
Cookie, revealed that he had caught cold
while dancing up a storm at a pig-picking
several days earlier.
"I've been getting better," he explained.
"I've been taking the dog's medicine. It was
. the only stuff we had around, and it works."
Wilson delighted in the absurdity of a
person taking dog medicine and chuckled
heartily. His eyes sparkled not only with
mirth but with the guile that has vanquished
many a political foe. "Hell," he reasoned ever
so logically, "if it's good enough for the dog,
it's good enough for me."
8 The Summer Tar Heel Thursday. May 31. 1979
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