They don't make 'em like Jim Wilson anymore.
On Sunday, the former Democratic senator departed this life. For many, it was a shock; most didn't realize he was sick, because he wasn't one to complain, and he was such a giant of a man. Not physically; he was slim and wiry, and did nothing flamboyant that would make him stand out in a crowd. But on the inside, Jim's presence was awe-inspiring. He cared about Cherokee County, Oklahoma, and this country as a whole.
In October, Jim was still giving TDP quotes for Sean Rowley's weekly Political Roundup stories. When no one else was available to help us flesh out important stories, Jim was there. And that's how he was in just about every facet of Cherokee County life. He was a key player in the Kiwanis Club. He had been on the Thompson House board. He was deeply involved with the Northeastern Oklahoma Regional Alliance. His concern for people who could not afford health care was one of the seeds that eventually blossomed into NeoHealth. He was at various times on boards too numerous to mention.
Most local residents first took notice of Jim when he opened Quality Data Products years ago. This was a service sorely lacking in Tahlequah at the time. He eventually sold it, but he made a far more important mark when he won a seat in the Oklahoma House and immediately began to champion not just his district, but the entire state. When Sen. Herb Rozell retired, Jim won that seat, and his formidable presence continued a tradition of strong representation for our little area of the state.
Unfortunately, that was not to continue; Jim was Cherokee County's last "dedicated" senator. Although term limits diminished the power of well-respected senators in rural Democratic strongholds, that wasn't enough for those intent on gerrymandering our county out of existence. Republican legislators TDP talked to on background even admitted party leadership wanted a damper put on our strong voice. And admittedly, when Democrats held sway in Oklahoma politics, they tried similar tactics.
Cherokee County's district is now shaped like a "G" - or as Jim described it, like a toilet. We share a senator on one end with Muskogee, and on another with Grove. All due respect to these fellows, Cherokee County lost something that was rightfully ours. Jim, who was nearing his term limit at that point, tried mightily to get a petition to force back the gerrymandering. He told TDP some local Republicans declared they were happy about the redistricting, because with other counties in the mix, a Republican would have a better shot at that seat. They didn't realize Jim wasn't trying to maintain Democratic control, but he was trying to make sure Cherokee County kept its own senator, regardless of party. Now that it's too late, everyone understands.
Jim Wilson is one of those rare individuals respected by all who knew him, party politics aside. His wisdom, wit, intelligence, diligence and kindness combined for a total package that cannot be duplicated. He will always be a source of pride for this area, because he truly made a difference.