display | more...

Wilbur Mills, Arkansas Congressman, presidential candidate, "Father of Medicare"

Wilbur Daigh Mills was born May 24, 1909 in Kensett, Arkansas. After graduating from Hendrix College in nearby Conway, Wilbur was accepted into Harvard University's law program, and was admitted to the bar in 1933.

After briefly running a private practice in Hope, Arkansas, the dashing Mills was named county judge of White County during the early stages of The Great Depression. There he became well-known in state government circles for his creation of a program funded by the county to provide medical treatment for poor and indigent people. His popularity soon earned him a nomination by the Democratic Party to run as the Representative for Arkansas' White Country district. He was elected to the job in 1936.

Wilbur quickly learned his way around Washington, D.C.'s inner circle and became head of the House Ways and Means Committee in 1958. There, he used his considerable weight to help reform tax law in America, culminating in the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Yet it was his work in initiating Medicare for which he will be most widely remembered in Congress. Known as "the most powerful man in Washington", Wilbur was initially opposed to Medicare, citing it as irresponsible and untenable. Yet he eventually relented, and with his help, the bill became a law, and millions of poor people in America became eligible for prescription drugs and hospital care.

In 1972, Wilbur was at the top of his strength and popularity, and turned it into a Presidential campaign. Unfortunately, Wilbur's platform was essentially a milder form of then-President Richard M. Nixon's, and the activist Democratic Party nominated George McGovern instead. Little did Wilbur know that four years later he would be out of politics altogether, disgraced.

On October 7, 1974, a policeman pulled over a car driving 80 miles per hour with no headlights on at 2 in the morning. When the driver was asked to step out of the car, he did so, and was revealed to be Mills, fairly drunk and bloodied in the face. The policeman went to the passenger side, and the passenger leaped out of the car and jumped into the nearby Tidal Basin to escape the long arm of the law.

At first, Mills denied this incident occurred, but an intrepid TV reporter had been following Mills around on a tip and had taped the whole episode. The mystery passenger was revealed to be one Miss Fanne Foxe, a local stripper known as "The Argentinian Firecracker." Mills confessed to both the impropriety and his fight with alcoholism, stepped down from his position as chairman of Ways and Means, and retired from the House in 1976.

After his retirement, Mills became a major benefactor for the state of Arkansas, building a number of hospitals for the poor and alcoholism treatment clinics throughout the Ozark State. Finally, Wilbur Mills passed away on May 2, 1992 in Searcy, Arkansas. He was 82.