Charlie Wilson was a wealthy businessman — but you would never have known it from talking to him, or from following his avocation as a politician. Wilson, former U.S. congressman, state senator and state representative, was one of the most unassuming, unpretentious individuals to appear before The Vindicator’s editorial board during his tenure in office. The word kindness has often been used to describe how he dealt with people. We got a sense of that when he talked about his constituents, especially those less fortunate.
Charlie Wilson died Sunday at the age of 70 in a Florida hospital after complications from a stroke he suffered in February. The Mahoning Valley has lost a true champion of the poor, the underclass and of working people.
It was just five months ago that the Democrat from St. Clairsville sought to win back the 6th District congressional seat he had lost to Republican Bill Johnson of Marietta in the 2010 election. Although the two candidates were polar opposites politically, they did not indulge in the name calling or personal attacks that unfortunately have become commonplace in today’s highly partisan environment.
“Although Charlie and I were political opponents, we were never enemies,” Johnson told The Vindicator. “He served with honor in the Ohio state Legislature and in Congress.”
The congressman said he and his wife, Leann, will be making a contribution to the scholarship fund named for Wilson at Ohio University Eastern. He encouraged others to do likewise.
It would be a fitting memorial to a man who, while very successful in his business, had the desire to work on behalf of those who, through no fault of their own, were in need of government’s assistance.
In our endorsement of his re-election bid in the 2010 congressional race — which Johnson won — we pointed out that Wilson was a good fit for the 6th District because he was a conservative Democrat who was not afraid to stand up to the party’s leadership in Congress.
While he strongly supported the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — he went against the caucus on energy legislation because he knew cap and trade would be bad for the 6th District’s economy.
On the issue of health care, his experience as a businessman led him to conclude that paying $13,000 a year for an employee’s coverage was unsustainable. He firmly believed that an overhaul was necessary in order to bring costs down and to provide coverage to the millions of Americans who are without insurance.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, who gave up the 6th District seat to run statewide in 2006, described Wilson, who succeeded him in the U.S. House, as a man devoted to public service.
“He was very proud to be in Congress,” Strickland said. “He really appreciated the opportunity to serve there, and understood its importance.”
During his time in office, both at the state level and nationally, Wilson never strayed from the principles he articulated during his campaigns and in meetings with The Vindicator’s editorial board.
He had the luxury of not needing a job and, thus, not having to hold on to his public position at all costs. As a result, he was able to serve without the strictures that undermine the tenure of so many officeholders.
Charlie Wilson served the Mahoning Valley with distinction. He will be missed.