Lufkin VA Clinic unveils statue of Charlie Wilson
By MELISSA CRAGER/The Lufkin Daily News
Regarded as a legend in life, former Congressman Charlie Wilson now stands immortalized in front of the clinic that bears his name and his passion.
A 10-foot statue entitled “Standing Tall with Charlie Wilson” was unveiled at the Charles Wilson VA Outpatient Clinic in Lufkin, Texas during a remembrance ceremony on Jan. 12.
Despite chilly temperatures, hundreds surrounded the entrance of the clinic to remember a man who fought diligently for veterans’ rights and supported hometown values. Wilson’s wife Barbara, lifetime friend Buddy Temple and former aide Peyton Walters pulled the curtain off the statue as the crowd looked on. The sounds of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” drifted over the group in a fitting tribute. Barbara Wilson said this was the first time she had seen the actual statue of her husband dressed in suspenders, arms crossed.
“It is surreal,” she said. “David (Adickes) did a beautiful job. This is just about the most perfect place for such a beautiful monument. Charlie was more proud of the VA Clinic than anything. It was his pride and joy. He would have just loved it. He was such a commanding person, and you can see all of that when you look at it.”
Prior to the unveiling, friends and colleagues shared stories about the Congressman who left such a lasting impact both locally and nationally.
Temple told the history of how Wilson got involved in politics, his leadership during one of the largest covert military operations in United States history and why taking care of the ‘home folks” meant so much.
“Others wondered why Charlie got re-elected so many times. In a short answer, he loved the people of East Texas, and they knew it,” Temple said. “He took care of the home folks, despised hypocrisy, never took himself too seriously, and he had a great sense of humor. He treated his opponents and friends with respect. He didn’t see his political opponents as enemies; he just saw them as people who had different opinions than his. He told me after he retired that he would not and could not have functioned in today’s toxic political climate.”
Adam Walmus, director of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, knew of Wilson through the Congressman’s campaign to bring a VA clinic to Lufkin instead of Tyler.
“His fervor (to have the clinic in Lufkin) convinced all present,” Walmus said. “He watched over the clinic’s approval process and oversaw funding and construction.”
The former Frank Avenue clinic opened in March 1991. It moved to its current location in 2009, just five years after the clinic was renamed in honor of Wilson.
“This is a mighty salute for all you did for our nation and what you do for veterans, Charlie,” Walmus said. “You will always stand here as a reminder that freedom doesn’t come free.”
The sculpture came as a special request by Wilson’s widow, Barbara. Houston sculptor Adickes, well known for his 67-foot-tall Sam Houston, came out of retirement to create the Wilson masterpiece.
“I had met Charlie at the dedication of the Sam Houston statue in 1994. I did a couple of busts of him — one from his Afghan period and one of him later on,” Adickes said. “After he passed away, Barbara called me and we decided, ‘let’s do something bigger.’ He was bigger than life. He liked thinking big and out-of-the-box, but he also did something about it.”
Charles “Charlie” Nesbitt Wilson, 76, died Feb. 10, 2010. Friends and former colleagues spearheaded the fundraiser for the project, garnering nearly $50,000 in honor of Wilson.
Melissa Crager’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.