Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mr. Wilbur Mills

(Run originally 2/7/04 on our old site)

Ernest Simpson

Congressman Wilbur D. Mills was from Kensett and, during his time in Washington, was one of the most powerful men in government. Not a dime of the government’s money could be spent without his approval .. that is, until he fell from grace in 1974, by cavorting in the middle of the night in the Tidal Basin at the Washington Monument with an exotic dancer, “Fanne Foxe,” real name: Annibelle Battistella.

Several years prior, I had just graduated from high school, and was in college about my first year, the fall of 1957. Dad was struggling with the phlebitis in his legs. He contracted the problem with poor circulation when he was about forty, and had been to doctors constantly to try to correct the condition. They told him the only thing he could do is not stand on his feet, but that was the only job available at International Shoe Co. in Searcy. He had worked there many years as a shoe inspector. The shoe factory said, ”Sorry, we don’t have any sitting down jobs.”

The doctors, Rogers and Jackson, told dad the best thing to do was apply for total disability. They wrote letters to the board on his behalf, telling how he was unable to work, and that there was no cure for the problem. He went to meet with the board, and they asked questions of him, and asked for more letters and proof of his disability, which he provided. The board was polite but, after each review, they always denied his claim of disability, even with the myriad of documentation.

I came home that weekend from college, and dad said, “Mr. Mills is in town, let’s go see him.” I said sure.

Mr. Mills had an office in the basement of the old post office in town, and when he finished a session in congress, he came home to Searcy to visit his constituents, and do a little politicking. I had never met the man, but knew how powerful he was. He was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and was respected and feared by many in the political scene. One of his greatest achievements was authoring the legislation for Medicare in 1965.

We walked to the door of the small office as a visitor was just leaving. We went inside, and dad introduced himself and me. Mr. Mills was cordial, shook hands with each of us and said, “Mr. Simpson, how can I help you today?” Dad said how he’d had problems many years with circulation in his legs, and produced the doctors’ letters to the disability board, and the board’s subsequent evaluation. He showed how many years he’d written, going to Little Rock to meet with them and even being evaluated by the board’s doctors.

Mr. Mills listened carefully, and asked to see his leg. Dad pulled up his pants leg, and showed a discolored, swollen and painful leg. Mr. Mills looked at his leg, and studied dad’s face for a moment, without either of them speaking. Then Mr. Mills said, “Mr. Simpson, let me look into this for you, and I assure you someone will be contacting you in a few days.” Dad thanked him; we shook hands, said goodbye and left.

I thought about that visit, it only lasted a few minutes, and I didn’t understand how this would be handled, with so little being spoken, and yet the powerful man was such a down to earth guy in the visit.

A couple of weeks later, I was home for another visit, and Dad said, “I want to show you something.” He produced a copy of a letter written by Mr. Mills to the state board, which went something like this: “Mr. Alvin Simpson, of Searcy, has been ill for several years with a condition with his legs, and has been unable to work. I understand he has applied to this board for total disability. I am personally interested in this claim before you at this time. I await with interest the outcome of the claim, and your decision. Yours truly, Wilbur D. Mills”

At the same time, almost on the same day he received the copy of the letter from Congressman Mills, he got a letter from the disability people, with a check. The letter went something like: “The board has reviewed your case, and is pleased to inform you that you have been placed on our rolls as being completely disabled. We hope the best for you in the future, etc…”

Dad passed away in 1971, but he received a disability check every month till then, dating from the day we visited Wilbur Mills.

The scandal in 1974 ruined Mr. Mills’ career. Now, I don’t personally care if he was drunk in the Tidal Basin, cavorting with the Argentine Firecracker, Fanne Foxe; it matters not to me. What I care about was, that when the bureaucracy failed, the government and all the rules governing right failed, Wilbur Mills didn’t. He saved my father countless days of poverty, worry, and pain with the stroke of a pen.

I have always had a personal disdain for things political, and politicians. However, this was different, and affected us personally. Perhaps this cynical view of bureaucracy in government should be put aside, but remains difficult for me to do so, even to this day.

Mr. Wilbur Daigh Mills passed away in May 1992. I thought of him, and will always remember the powerful man, and have respect for his memory for what he did for my dad.

Wilbur Mills is buried in the Kensett Cemetery.


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