Don W. Williamson
|Donald Wayne "Don" Williamson|
|Louisiana State Senator for District 39 (Caddo Parish)|
|Preceded by||J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Billy P. Keith|
|Louisiana State Representative from Caddo Parish|
|Preceded by||J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||James H. "Jimmy" Wilson|
|Caddo Parish School Board|
October 5, 1927 |
Vivian, Caddo Parish
|Political party||Democratic; Switched to Republican, 1990s|
(1) Norma Herring Williamson (married 1945-2002, her death)(2) Rachel Nelson Dunn Williamson (married since 2003)
Sherry Williamson Paschall (born 1948)
(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 in making Louisiana State University at Shreveport a four-year institution.Robert G. Jones of Lake Charles the only son of the late Governor Sam Houston Jones.
Donald Wayne Williamson, usually known as Don Williamson (born October 5, 1927), is a semiretired American businessman in Shreveport, the seat of Caddo Parish and the largest city in north Louisiana, who served in both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature between 1968 and 1980. A Democrat, he served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1968 to 1972 and then in the Louisiana State Senate from 1972 to 1980. Earlier, from 1958–1968, he was a member and later 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 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.
Williamson was born in Vivian in northern Caddo Parish to Earl Guyton Williamson, Sr. (1903–1992), and the former Mamie Greer (1904–1948). He attended public schools and graduated from Vivian High School (later North Caddo High School) in 1946. He attended the Methodist-affiliated Centenary College 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, in which Dunn served from 1976 to 1984. Dunn was later the administrator of the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport.
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 G. Rickover. It was essential civilian employment and granted Williamson a deferment from the draft in 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 are two living grown children from Rachel's marriage to Dunn: Linda Dunn Turner (born 1947) of Bossier City and Robbie Jack Dunn (born 1949) of Shreveport. James Forrest "Jimmy" Dunn (1958–1985), was killed in an automobile accident in Oklahoma.
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.
School board president
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 J. Jackson (1927-2014) and Jackson's daughter, current 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.
Billy Guin 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 Shreveport public utilities commissioner, the last to hold that position until it was abolished under the new mayor-council form of city government. Guin 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.
Reform-minded state representative
On February 6, 1968, Williamson was one of seven Democrats elected at-large to the state House of Representatives from Caddo Parish. The only incumbent Republican who ran that year, the late Taylor W. O'Hearn of Shreveport, led his party ticket but failed to dislodge a single Democratic candidate.
In 1970, Williamson voted for a two-cent increase in the state sales tax pushed by then Governor John 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.
As a House member, Williamson said that he was appalled at conditions he found on 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 Garrett. Among the "Young Turks" were R. W. "Buzzy" Graham 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 in Louisiana, 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.
Williamson's House seat, then numbered District 1, went to a Democrat (later Republican) that he initially supported, James H. "Jimmy" Wilson (1931–1986), 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.
As state Senator 1972-1980
In 1976, Williamson chaired the House-Senate Joint Committee on Education. From that berth, he pushed for:
(2) the bill to make Louisiana State University at Shreveport a four-year institution
(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.
He 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 Washington Edwards. Williamson also worked closely with Representative Joe Henry Cooper of De Soto 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.
From 1973 to 1976, Williamson was vice-chairman of the Southern Growth Policies Board, having served under two chairmen of the panel, Governor Jimmy Carter, Democrat of Georgia (1973–1974) and Republican Governor 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 itself is headquartered at Duke University in Durham. Williamson presided over board meetings in the absences of Carter or Holshouser.
Williamson's Caddo Parish Senate colleagues were, in his first term, Cecil K. Carter, Jr., and in his second term, Virginia Shehee, both of Shreveport. In both terms, Jackson B. Davis, a Shreveport attorney, was Williamson's senior Caddo Parish colleague.
Defeating Jimmy Wilson, 1975
In 1975, Williamson sought reelection to the state Senate from District 39 and faced an unexpected challenger, state Representative 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. 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 for governor.
After his loss to Williamson, Wilson switched parties and made unsuccessful campaigns in 1978 and 1980 as a Republican for the Fourth Congressional District seat vacated by the longtime U.S. Representative Joe David "Joe D." Waggonner, Jr., 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 Jim McCrery, John Cooksey, and John C. Fleming.
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 jungle primary. He chose the insurance commissioner's race largely because the incumbent, Sherman A. Bernard, 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 thirty months for extortion and was finally released by the Bureau of Prisons in 1996.
Williamson won the endorsement of every major newspaper in the state, and he campaigned actively in most of the parishes. Cajun humorist Justin Wilson, 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.
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.
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, 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 satisfied to "clip ribbons" in friendly photo ops. Williamson said that when he went to meet with the editorial boards of both Shreveport newspapers, Shreveport Times and the defunct Shreveport Journal, one declined to meet with him after having invited him to appear because the papers had already decided to endorse Hussey.
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 and thus far only female mayor.
Williamson's father and brothers in politics
Earl Williamson, Sr., 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 supporter in Caddo Parish of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and Earl Kemp Long, whose political appeal transformed Louisiana from the 1920s to 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.
Williamson's older brother, Earl G. Williamson, Jr. (May 18, 1923 – April 25, 2015), managed with their brother, James, their father's Williamson Motors (GM) dealership, which operated for sixty-five years in Vivian. During World War II, stationed with the 91st Bombardment Group of the 8th Army Air Forces at RAF Bassingbourn, England, he completed thirty daylight bombing missions over Germany. He flew such B-17s as Hi-Ho Silver, Nine-O-Nine, Wee Willie, Chennault's Pappy, and Little Miss Mischief. He survived a crash landing of the Blue Dreams. Excerpts from his diary of the thirty mission were published in a 1994 issue of National Geographic. Williamson, Jr., received the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals. He was a champion tennis player for Northwestern State University and a long-time civic figure in Vivian though he did not hold public office.
Three other of Don Williamson's brothers developed political careers. James Whitfield Williamson (June 12, 1925 — November 15, 2008), in their father's legacy, served as alderman (fourteen years) and mayor of Vivian (also fourteen years, from 1972 to 1986) and for a single four-year term on the Caddo Parish Commission. A half-brother, Tedford Fielden Williamson (born 1957) of Salado in Bell County, Texas, is a former member of the Round Rock City Council in Round Rock in coincidentally Williamson County. 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. The other half-brother, Clayton Lamar Williamson (born 1952) was city manager in three small Texas communities, including Friona in Parmer County in the Panhandle, and then a power company official before he launched a career in counseling.
Don Williamson has been an active Southern Baptist deacon for more than a half century and is a member of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport. He is a member of the Masonic lodge, Lions International, and the Downtown Shreveport Rotary Club, one of the largest of all the chapters of Rotary International.
- Billy Hathorn, "The Williamsons of Caddo Parish: A Political 'Mini-Dynasty'", North Louisiana History, Winter 2008, pp. 25-43; hereinafter cited as NLH
- NLH, p. 33
- NLH, pp. 33-34
- NLH, p. 34
- NLH, pp. 34-35
- NLH, p. 35
- State of Louisiana, Election Returns, February 6, 1968
- NLH, pp. 35-36
- McLeod Lecture Series at McNeese State University in Lake Charles; Louisiana Public Broadcasting, "The Young Turks"; NLH, p. 36
- NLH, pp. 36-37
- NLH, p. 37
- NLH, pp. 37-38
- Roemer was a Democrat while in Congress. He switched to the Republicans during his one term as governor.
- NLH, pp. 38-39
- NLH, p. 38
- NLH, p. 39
- NLH, pp. 39-40
- NLH, pp. 26-33
- "Earl Guyton Williamson, Jr.". The Shreveport Times. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
- James Williamson obituary, Shreveport Times, November 17, 2008
- NLH, pp. 40-42
- NLH, pp. 40-41
|Louisiana House of Representatives|
|Louisiana State Representative for Caddo Parish
Donald Wayne "Don" Williamson
James H. "Jimmy" Wilson
Three at-large members:
|Louisiana State Senator for District 39 (Caddo Parish)
Donald Wayne "Don" Williamson
Billy P. Keith