Charlie Wilson dies in Florida

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Former U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, a local businessman and community leader, died Sunday in Florida.

A statement released by Wilson’s family said he died at 2:30 p.m. following complications from a stroke he suffered while visiting Disney World in late February. His family was by his side.

Born in Dillonvale, Wilson celebrated his 70th birthday at his St. Clairsville home in January. He operated both Wilson Funeral Home and Wilson Furniture in Bridgeport in addition to his political duties.

Wilson, a Democrat, was first elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1996, and served four two-year terms there before winning a spot in the Ohio Senate in 2004.

In 2006, he announced he would run for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by Ted Strickland, who had been elected Ohio’s governor. But Wilson’s filing in the race that year was rejected by election officials after he did not submit enough valid petition signatures, and he failed to make the Democratic primary ballot.

Wilson then focused his efforts into running as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination in the race. His massive campaign effort across Southeast Ohio to make voters familiar with his name proved successful, as 67 percent of those casting ballots wrote in Wilson’s name.

Wilson is among a select few to win a Congressional race as a write-in candidate.

Wilson won re-election in 2008, but lost his seat – and his first election – in 2010 to current Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. Wilson again lost a close race to Johnson in November 2012.

Recent reports from early this year had Wilson considering a run for Ohio treasurer in 2014.

Johnson was among those reflecting on Wilson’s death.

“LeeAnn (Johnson) and I were saddened to hear of the passing of former Congressman Charlie Wilson,” Johnson said. “Although Charlie and I were political opponents, we were never enemies.

“He served with honor in the Ohio (General Assembly) and in Congress. We will be making a contribution in his memory to the scholarship fund named for him at Ohio University Eastern and we encourage others to do so, as well. May God’s healing and grace be with Charlie Wilson’s family in this time of sorrow.”

Strickland said he was both sad and surprised to hear of Wilson’s death, as he had heard Wilson’s condition had been improving in recent weeks.

“He was a good friend and a good fellow, and it was difficult to think this could have happened,” Strickland commented. “He was really good to me throughout my service, and his service. He was very dedicated to public service … he loved his community and state, and served them well.

“This is a loss not only for his family, but for all the people throughout the 6th Congressional District as well as the state. He lived his life in a way that demonstrated commitment to public service.”

Carl Lehman, a Democratic representative to the Belmont County Board of Elections, said he knew Wilson prior to his days in politics.

“He treated people well, and knew how to treat people,” Lehman said.

Belmont County Democratic Party Chairman Gordie Longshaw added he knew Wilson for more than 40 years.

He said Wilson was “good to the community” and made many quiet contributions to students in Bridgeport schools that many didn’t realize.

“He liked people and was a giver,” Longshaw commented of Wilson. “He was a special man.”

Wilson served alongside former Ohio Sen. Jim Carnes, R-St. Clairsville, in the Ohio General Assembly.

“I am deeply saddened,” Carnes said. “For years, I knew him and considered him a friend. When he came to the House, I was in the Senate, and we had a great relationship. Working together, we did a lot together for the area.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.