Don Williamson

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Donald Wayne "Don" Williamson

Louisiana State Senator for
District 36 (Caddo Parish)
In office
1972–1980
Preceded by At-large members:

Joseph LeSage
Jackson Beauregard Davis
J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.

Succeeded by Billy P. "Bill" Keith

Louisiana State Representative for
District 1 (Caddo Parish)
Incumbent
Assumed office 
1968
Preceded by Previous at-large members
Succeeded by Jimmy Wilson

Member of Caddo Parish School Board
In office
1958–1968

Born October 5, 1927
Vivian, Caddo Parish, Louisiana
Died November 10, 2019 (aged 92)
Shreveport, Louisiana
Resting place Evans-Richie Cemetery in Vivian
Political party Democrat-turned-Republican (early 1990s)
Spouse(s) (1) Norma Herring Williamson (died 2002)

(2) Rachel Nelson Dunn Terrell Williamson (married 2003, divorced)

Relations Earl Williamson (father)

James Whitfield Williamson (brother)
Tedford Williamson (half-brother)

Children From first marriage:

Sherry Williamson Paschall
Guy Clifford Williamson
Randall Whitfield "Randy" Williamson
Four step-children from second marriage

Alma mater Centenary College of Louisiana
Religion Southern Baptist
Notes
  • (1) Though his father had been part of the old Long political faction in Louisiana, Williamson said that he sought to exercise independent judgment without regard to overriding partisan considerations.
  • (2) As a state senator, Williamson worked successfully to turn Louisiana State University at Shreveport into a four-year institution.
  • (3) When he first ran for mayor of Shreveport, Williamson had the goal of turning his city into a tourist mecca comparable to Branson, Missouri.
  • (4) Though their fathers had been political rivals, Williamson in the legislature struck up a close friendship with former legislator Robert Gambrell "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles, the son of Governor Sam Houston Jones.

Donald Wayne Williamson, known as Don Williamson (October 5, 1927 – November 10, 2019),[1] was a retired American businessman in Shreveport, Louisiana, who served in both houses of the state legislature between 1968 and 1980. A former Democrat, he served in the state House from 1968 to 1972 and then in the state Senate from 1972 to 1980.

Earlier, from 1958 to 1968, he was a member and later the president of the Caddo Parish School Board. Williamson ran a strong but unsuccessful race for state insurance commissioner in 1979 and failed twice in bids for mayor of Shreveport against John Brennan Hussey in 1982 and 1986. After his political retirement, he shifted his registration in the early 1990s to the Republican Party to voice his opposition to the administration of then U.S. President Bill Clinton [1]

Background

Williamson was born in Vivian in northern Caddo Parish to Earl Williamson and the former Mamie Greer (1904–1948). He attended public schools and graduated in 1946 from Vivian High School, later North Caddo High School. He attended the Methodist-affiliatedCentenary Collge in Shreveport for a year. In 1945, while still in high school, he married his childhood sweetheart, the former Norma Herring of Vivian. They were wed for nearly fifty-seven years until her death of a sudden stroke in 2002. In 2003, when he retired from business, Williamson married the former Rachel Nelson Dunn, former wife of Forrest Dunn, who like Williamson is a former Shreveport furniture store owner and a former Democratic member of the Caddo Parish School Board and the Louisiana House of Representatives (1976–1984). Dunn was later the administrator of the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport.[2]

From 1949 to 1951, Williamson worked for General Electric in the building of the United States Navy's atomic fusion plant in Schenectady, New York. This work made possible the nuclear-powered submarine advanced by Admiral Hyman J. Rickover. As he was engaged in essential civilian employment, he was deferred from the draft during the Korean War.

Returning to Vivian in 1951, Williamson purchased Vivian Drugs, later North Caddo Drugs. After several years, he went into the furniture business. His Vivian Furniture Company was renamed "Designer Showroom" in 1976, when the operation moved to Shreveport. The business is run by his two sons, Guy Clifford Williamson (born 1953) and Randall Whitfield "Randy" Williamson (born 1957).

Two Williamson grandsons also work there: Cliff Williamson and William B. Rowe, III, a son of Williamson's daughter, Sherry Williamson Paschall (born 1948). The sons and grandsons are interior designers. Williamson also has two other grandchildren. And there is one living grown children from Rachel's marriage to Dunn: Linda Dunn Turner (born 1947) of Bossier City. Two other stepchildren are deceased, Robbie Jack Dunn (1949-2018) of Shreveport and James Forrest "Jimmy" Dunn (1958–1985), the victim of a deadly automobile accident in Oklahoma. [3]

In addition to his furniture store, Willamson went into the real estate business in Vivian, a community of nearly four thousand. He played a major role in the development of the southern part of the town, which became the site of the area Wal-Mart and restaurant outlets. [4]

Caddo Parish School Board

Williamson served on the parish school board when the body had twenty-one members. With so many members, it was difficult to preside over the meetings, which Williamson did in his role as the president. In 1965, when the board was ordered by the federal courts to desegregate, Williamson was the president who was credited with guiding the process forward. He said that he made many friends in the African-American community, who later supported him in his political campaigns, including later state Representative Alphonse I. Jackson (1927-2014) and Jackson's daughter, former District 39 state Senator Lydia Patrice Jackson (born 1960), both Democrats. Williamson said that his motivation as board president was to preserve the integrity of the schools and to treat all citizens fairly in the process of desegregation. "The community responded in a positive way, and things went smoothly," Williamson said. He spent a week in the court of U.S. District Judge Benjamin C. Dawkins, Jr., himself a former Caddo Parish School Board president, during the hearing of the desegregation suit. The board was later reduced to nine members, a more manageable number, through state law under Williamson's leadership. [5]

Billy Guin (also born 1927), disagrees with Williamson about smaller school boards. In 1964, Guin became one of the first three Republicans elected to the Caddo Parish School Board since Reconstruction and in 1977 the only Republican to have served as city public utilities commissioner. He contends that smaller boards enhance the power of interest groups. While the larger membership can be cumbersome, Guin said more members insure that the overall well-being of the community is served, rather than the interest of vocal minorities. [6]

Reform-minded state representative

On February 6, 1968, Williamson was one of seven Democrats elected at-large to the state House of Representatives for Caddo Parish. The only incumbent Republican who ran that year, Taylor Walters O'Hearn (1908-1998) of Shreveport, led his party ticket but failed to dislodge a single Democratic candidate. [7]

In 1970, Williamson voted for a two-cent increase in the state sales tax pushed by then GovernorJohn J. McKeithen to provide pay raises for teachers and state employees. Williamson said that the vote for the sales tax hike was politically unpopular and cost many members their seats in the 1971-1972 election cycle, including even the Speaker of the House, John Sidney Garrett of Claiborne Parish. Williamson said that he too may have failed to have been reelected to the House had he run for a second term. Instead, he ran for the newly established single-member District 39 seat in the state Senate. Prior to the 1971 cycle, Louisiana legislators had often been chosen at-large within a parish or from among two or more parishes and not by separate districting. He beat his principal competitor, Caddo Parish Police Juror David Richard Carroll, Sr. (born 1926), a fellow Democrat. [8]

As a House member, Williamson said that he was appalled at conditions he found upon entering the legislature. Lobbyists were allowed to roam the House floor at will. Secretaries were often the wives of legislators. It was difficult to reach the podium to speak and be heard. Members had no telephones at their desks on the House floor. Williamson joined the group called the "Young Turks" which demanded reforms. The dissidents succeeded in electing E. L. "Bubba" Henry of Jonesboro as Speaker to succeed the defeated John S. Garrett. Among the "Young Turks" were Ralph Warren "Buzzy" Graham (1937-2014) of Alexandria, future Speaker John Hainkel (1938–2005) of New Orleans, and Robert Gambrell "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles, son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Though Williamson's father had been a part of the Long faction in state Democratic politics, and Bob Jones' father was the epitome of anti-Longism, Williamson and the younger Jones became good friends and reform-minded allies. Both left the House after a single term to move to the state Senate. [9]

Williamson's House seat, then numbered District 1, went to a Democrat (later Republican) that he initially supported, Jimmy Wilson, who like Williamson's father, Earl Williamson, was a former mayor of Vivian, having served from 1966 to 1972. Though Wilson had defeated Earl Williamson in the 1966 mayor's race, Don Williamson put aside family feelings and supported Wilson to be Williamson's successor in the state House. [10]

State Senator, 1972-1980

In 1976, Williamson chaired the House-Senate Joint Committee on Education. From that berth, he pushed for: (1) the establishment of Louisiana Public Broadcasting Service,
(2) the bill to make Louisiana State University at Shreveport a four-year institution, and
(3) the enlargement and reorganization of the state vocational education system. The latter changes made a vocational school available to nearly all students within thirty miles of their residences. [11]

Williamson and state Senator Edgar G. "Sonny" Mouton, Jr., of Lafayette, a 1979 gubernatorial hopeful, were the point men on education in the administration of Governor Edwin Edwards. Williamson also worked closely with Representative Joe Henry Cooper of DeSoto Parish on educational issues. Williamson represented Louisiana on the Education Commission of the States, a national federation promoting reforms in education. He also chaired the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. [11]

From 1973 to 1976, Williamson was vice-chairman of the Southern Growth Policies Board, having served under two SGPB chairmen, Governors Jimmy Carter, Democrat of Georgia (1973–1974) and Republican James Holshouser of North Carolina (1975–1976). The board, which meets three times annually in Atlanta, seeks to alleviate problems stemming from growth, including environmental issues and dislocation from urban renewal. The board is headquartered at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Williamson presided over board meetings of the Southern Growth Policies Board in the absences of Carter or Holshouser. [11]

Williamson's Caddo Parish Senate colleagues were, in his first term, Cecil Kay Carter, Jr. (1929-1987), and in his second term, Virginia Shehee, both of Shreveport. In each term, Jackson Beauregard Davis, a Shreveport attorney, was Williamson's senior Caddo Parish colleague.

Defeating Jimmy Wilson, 1975

In 1975, Williamson sought reelection to the state Senate for District 39 and faced an unexpected challenger, state Representative Jimmy Wilson, who was completing a single term in the House during Williamson's first term in the Senate. Still a Democrat at the time, Wilson ran as an advocate of right-to-work legislation, which the legislature adopted in 1976. Wilson claimed that he would address business growth issues more effectively than had Williamson. Then Williamson questioned Wilson's high rate of absenteeism in critical state House votes and ran a clever advertisement which proclaimed: "He [Wilson] didn't vote for you. Why should you vote for him?" Williamson said that Wilson was not satisfied as a representative but quickly eyed the state Senate and even planned to run later for governor.[12]

After his loss to Williamson, Wilson switched parties and made unsuccessful campaigns in 1978 and 1980 as a Republican for the 4th congressional district seat vacated by the longtime U.S. Representative Joe Waggonner of Plain Dealing in northern Bossier Parish. The seat first went to Democrat Anthony Claude "Buddy" Leach, then of Leesville in western Louisiana, and has since been filled by Democrats Buddy Roemer and Cleo Fields and Republicans James Otis "Jim" McCrery, John Cooksey, John Fleming, and Mike Johnson. [13]

Running for insurance commissioner

Williamson said that the state Senate was consuming so much of his time that he did not wish to seek a third term. Bob Jones had said much the same when he decided to run for governor in 1975, rather than to seek reelection to the Senate. Therefore, Williamson decided to run for a statewide administrative office in the 1979 nonpartisan blanket primary. He chose the insurance commissioner's race largely because the incumbent, Sherman Albert Bernard, Sr. (1925-2012), a native of Terrebonne Parish who had become a house mover in Westwego in Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, was under fire for corrupt practices in the handling of official duties. Bernard was later imprisoned for fraud and was finally released by the Bureau of Prisons in 1996. [14]

Williamson won the endorsement of every major newspaper in the state, and he campaigned actively in most of the parishes. Cajun humorist Justin Wilson (1914-2001), whose father, Harry D. Wilson, was a Longite agriculture commissioner, campaigned for him. Bernard failed to win a majority in the primary, and a general election between the top two Democrats, Bernard and Williamson, was hence held at the same time that Republican David C. Treen and Democrat Louis Lambert, then a public service commissioner, contested the governorship. [15]

Still, Bernard prevailed with 627,247 (50.3 percent) to Williamson's 618,952 (49.7 percent). Williamson ran well in Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Baton Rouge, but he was annihilated in Orleans Parish, particularly the predominantly black Ninth Ward. Bernard also undoubtedly benefited by his being from the Orleans metro area. Williamson said that he believed that there may have been fraudulent practices in the count in New Orleans but he did not request a recount because it would have cost his campaign another $100,000 if he finished on the short end of a second official tally. [16]

Running twice for mayor of Shreveport

Coming so close in the insurance commissioner's race, Williamson tried once again in politics: he contested the mayoralty of Shreveport in 1982 in an effort to succeed one-term Mayor William T. "Bill" Hanna, Jr., a fellow Democrat and, like Williamson's father, an automobile dealer, but Ford, rather than Chevrolet. Williamson's principal opponent was Shreveport attorney John Brennan Hussey. The two waged activist campaigns, and while Williamson finished with more than 40 percent of the vote, Hussey emerged the winner. Williamson said that as mayor he would have tried to promote tourism in the Shreveport-Bossier City area. He favored reinstituting the former "Louisiana Hayride" Country and Western music forum. "I just wanted to have Branson (the resort city in Missouri) in Shreveport," he said. Williamson said that he would have been a "mover and shaker" as mayor, whereas he believed Hussey would have been less active in the office and satisfied to "clip ribbons" in friendly photo ops. Williamson said that when he went to meet with the editorial boards of The Shreveport Times and the since defunct Shreveport Journal. One of the papers declined to meet with him after having invited him to appear, but the papers had already decided to endorse Hussey. [16]

In 1986, Williamson challenged Hussey again but did not run actively. He merely placed his name on the ballot and spoke to individual voters. He spent virtually no money. He again exceeded 40 percent of the vote, but Hussey won a second term. Williamson said that Hussey is a "fine person," but he felt that Hussey needed an opponent in 1986. Hussey was term-limited in 1990. He was succeeded by Hazel F. Beard (born 1930), Shreveport's first Republican since Reconstruction and its first female mayor. [17]

Williamson's father and brothers in politics

Earl Williamson was an alderman and mayor of Vivian and a member of the Caddo Parish Police Jury (now Caddo Parish Commission, the equivalent of county commission in other states) from 1933 to 1972 and 1979 to 1980. Earl Williamson was also a leading Caddo Parish supporter of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and Earl Kemp Long, whose political appeal transformed Louisiana from the 1920s through the 1950s. Earl Williamson was personally close to the Longs as well as a loyal political backer. Don Williamson, however, did not share his father's commitment to Longism. He was a reformer in politics from the beginning of his career to the end. He remained a Democrat like his father while he ran for office but later switched to the Republican Party. [18]

Three of Don Williamnson's brothers also developed careers. James Whitfield Williamson, in their father's legacy, served as alderman and mayor of Vivian (fourteen years each) from 1972 to 1986 and for a single four-year term on the Caddo Parish Commission. [19] A half-brother, Tedford Williamson, formerly of Round Rock, Texas, in coincidentally Williamson County served briefly on the Round Rock City Council. He is a Republican but in Texas all municipal offices are elected on nonpartisan ballots. Tedford Williamson is one of two sons of Earl Williamson from his second marriage to the former Mary Jane Hearne.[20] The other half-brother, Clayton Lamar Williamson (born 1952) was city manager in three Texas communities, including Friona in Parmer County in the Panhandle, and then a power company official before he launched a new career in counseling. [21]

Don Williamson is a member of the Masonic lodge, the Lions International, and the Downtown Shreveport Rotary Club, one of the largest of all the Rotary chapters. [2] Williamson died a month after his 92nd birthday. He is interred at Evans-Richie Cemetery in Vivian,[1]

References

1. Billy Hathorn, "The Williamsons of Caddo Parish: A Political 'Mini-Dynasty," North Louisiana History, Winter 2008, pp. 25-43; hereinafter cited as NLH.
2. a b NLH, p. 33.
3. NLH, pp. 33-34.
4. NLH, p. 34.
5. NLH, pp. 34-35.
6. NLH, p. 35.
7. State of Louisiana, Election Returns, February 6, 1968.
8. NLH, pp. 35-36.
9. McLeod Lecture Series at McNeese State University in Lake Charles; Louisiana Public Broadcasting, "The Young Turks"; NLH, p. 36.
10. NLH, pp. 36-37.
11. a b c NLH, p. 37.
12. NLH, pp. 37-38.
13. Buddy Roemer was a Democrat while in Congress from 1981 to 1998. He switched to the Republicans in 1991 during his one term as governor and was then edged out of a gubernatorial runoff spot by David Duke, who promptly lost to Edwin Edwards.
14. NLH, pp. 38-39.
15. NLH, p. 38.
16. a b NLH, p. 39.
17. NLH, pp. 39-40.
18. NLH, pp. 26-33.
19. James Williamson obituary, The Shreveport Times, November 17, 2008.
20. NLH, pp. 40-42.
21. NLH, pp. 40-41.

  1. 1.0 1.1 Donald Wayne Williamson. The Shreveport Times (November 11, 2019). Retrieved on November 13, 2019.