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article imageAuthor Kay Goss discusses book about politician Wilbur D. Mills Special

By Kay Mathews     Dec 21, 2012 in Politics
Goss' new book, Mr. Chairman - The Life and Legacy of Wilbur D Mills, chronicles the life and career of the longest continuously serving chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee whose name is synonymous with power, scandal, and recovery.
Like the subject of her book, Kay C. Goss is a native of Arkansas and has extensive experience in the public sector. In college, Goss studied public administration and political science earning a B.A. and a M.A. from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. After graduating, Goss worked for then-Governor Bill Clinton in the Governor's Office from 1982-1994, including 11 years as senior assistant for intergovernmental relations.
Goss also served as the associate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director from 1994 to 2001. She was responsible for the nation’s readiness for man-made and natural disasters, increasing emergency preparedness capacity at the state and local levels, and for developing the emergency management profession.
When asked what motivated her to write Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilbur D. Mills, published by Parkhurst Brothers, Inc., Goss replied, "I was a political science and history student and then teacher and a huge history buff, so, when I first met Mr. Mills, as an adult, I was pleased to have a chance to meet a political and governmental leader from Arkansas who knew Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, as well as Speaker Sam Rayburn. Every time I saw him I would ask him questions about them. He finally jokingly told me I asked too many questions."
Wilbur Daigh Mills (1909-1992) knew all of those presidents, and more, because he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1939 to January 1977. Mills (D-AR) is noted for his role as the "architect" of many policies including Medicare, tax reform, interstate highways, and Social Security.
President Kennedy signing the 1961 Amendments into law  June 30  1961. Shown with the President are ...
President Kennedy signing the 1961 Amendments into law, June 30, 1961. Shown with the President are (left to right) Rep. Carl Albert (D-OK); Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-AR); Sen. John J. Williams (R-DE); Rep. Thomas J. O'Brien (D-IL); Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; Sen. Robert S. Kerr (D-OK); Rep. John W. Byrnes (R-WS); Abraham Ribicoff, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; and Wilbur J. Cohen, Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. SSA History Archives.
Social Security Administration
As the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture states, Mills was "the longest continuously serving chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, becoming a member of the committee in 1942, becoming chairman in 1958, stepping down as chairman in 1975, and retiring from the committee and Congress in 1977. When anyone in Washington DC spoke of 'Mr. Chairman,' everyone understood that the reference was to Mills." Thus, the leading title of Goss' book.
Goss explained that her motivation for writing the book also came from early research on Mills that led to numerous published articles and presentations. Goss' scholarship on Mills spans his political career. Goss wrote about his 1934 campaign for County Judge of White County, Ark. and administration after winning through his efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives to reform tax and trade policies, and his work on Social Security disability, unemployment compensation, and interstate highways policies.
"Along the way, I figured out that I had enough information, a great story, and a potential book, as well as a strong feeling that an exceptional life should not be judged by a low point," said Goss. "Also, if a person sets a personal and professional goal, it can be achieved, as well if a person falls short of their own expectations for themselves, they can recover and lead a productive life."
The "low point" in Mills' career that Goss refers to is an incident that occurred in October 1974, which ultimately led to Mills being compelled to give up his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and dashed speculation at the time that he might be a possible presidential nominee.
The New York Times states, "For a time in the early 1970's, Mr. Mills's name was being mentioned as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court or the Presidency. But on Oct. 7, 1974, that speculation was dashed. Early that morning, after police stopped Mr. Mills' weaving car, Annabel Battistella, the stripper who performed as Fanne Foxe, ran from the car and leaped into the Tidal Basin. Mr. Mills stepped from the car, intoxicated, his face bleeding. Mr. Mills was elected to his 19th and final House term a month after the incident. He was forced to relinquish his chairmanship. 'I drank booze, and I mixed the drinks with some highly addictive drugs,' he later said."
Painting of longtime U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee  Wilbur ...
Painting of longtime U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills (D-AR).
Thus, both power and scandal were integral parts of Wilbur Mills' life. But, so is recovery. According to Goss, "Mr. Mills was active in alcoholism recovery from the moment he finished his and Mrs. Mills' intensive treatment at Palm Beach Institute on Alcoholism in May of 1975. He had been instructed to spend as much time in meetings as he did in consuming alcohol, so he participated in as many as 22 meetings a week for awhile, spoke around the country advocating the recovery process and methodology, and raised funds for centers in support, including the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center in Searcy, Arkansas, as well as counseling individual alcoholics. He had two requirements for the center named in his honor: 1. that hey would never turn someone away due to their not being able to pay and 2. that they would strive to become the best treatment center in the US."
Health Resources of Arkansas states that the "Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center has a distinction for excellence in the treatment of chemical dependency" and notes that the campus houses, in addition to other units, "The Kay Goss Women's Unit (14 apartments for women and their children)."
When asked when her book will be released, Goss said, "The book is being launched on December 1st as it is just hot off the press, from Parkhurst Brothers Publishers, and is available immediately." Book signings were held earlier this month in Arkansas, and, appropriately, Goss was "at the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center Christmas Party on December 18th in Searcy, Arkansas."
I presumed that the audience for the book would be political scholars, political junkies, and residents and natives of Arkansas, but asked Goss how Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilbur D. Mills will appeal to a broader audience? Goss replied:
Historians and history buffs also, especially on American history from 1909 to 1992.
More broadly, I believe it will appeal to all who appreciate the bipartisan approach he used and advocated; his determination to balance the long-term federal debt, as well as the annual federal deficit; his efforts to eliminate poverty through improving health care; his support for taxation according to economic ability, and his contracting the disease of addiction and securing sobriety to lead a life helping others suffering from that disease.
As the publisher and I went through the final stages of development of the book, it became clear to us that the issues which highlighted Mr. Mills' tenure in Congress from 1939 to 1977, are still the issues which drive our congressional issues to this day.
Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilbur D. Mills is available for purchase through Parkhurst Brothers, Inc. and it will soon be available at, where pre-orders are currently an option.
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