William A. Wilson was born in Los Angeles, California, on November 3, 1914. He was graduated from Stanford University with a degree in mechanical engineering, and is a registered mechanical and metallurgical engineer in the State of California. Mr. Wilson's varied career has included service in the U.S. Army as captain in the Ordnance Corps during the Second World War. After his father's retirement, Mr. Wilson assumed presidencey of the former's company, Web Wilson Oil Tools, Inc., until its sale in 1960.

Mr. Wilson is a long-time friend and supporter of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. While governor, Mr. Reagan appointed him first to the Commission of Californias, an organization promoting relations between California and Baja California; and later to the Board of Regents of the University of California, of which he is also a member of the investment, finance and audit committees. Mr. Wilson's concern for education is also evident in his service as a member of the California Post Secondary Education Commission.

On February 11, 1981, President Reagan appointed Mr. Wilson as his personal representative to the Holy See. Even though, at the time, 85 other countries designated their representatives as ambassadors, full diplomatic relations at that level were not viable because of an 1867 U.S. law promulgating the doctrine of separation of Church and State by prohibition of the establishment of a U.S. legation to the Vatican. However, on January 10, 1984, legislation overturned the law, which had been passed at a time of considerable anti-papal sentiment in the U.S. Only since 1977 had there been any serious attempt to overturn it. Legislation to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See was introduced by Representative Clement Zablocki (D-Wisconsin), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Repeal of the 1867 law meant formally recognizing Pope John Paul II as a major world statesman. On March 7, 1984, Mr. Wilson's appointment as first U.S. ambassador to the Vatican was confirmed in the U.S. Senate.

Ambassador Wilson retired from post in 1986. Since then, his interest in various enterprises has kept him well occupied. He is a member of the board of directors of the Pennzoil Company; a member of the board of directors and a member of the audit committee of the Earle M. Jorgensen Company, which has 18 steel plants around the nation; and is active in real estate development and cattle interests in the U.S. and Mexico. A devoted supporter of humanitarian organizations, Mr. Wilson's civic activities include serving as a member of the board of trustees of St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California.

What must be one of Ambassador Wilson's keenest interests, however, is amateur radio. His ham career began in the early thirties when his second cousin, Cal Smith, W6BRD, taught him the code. The latter was chief engineer of KFAC and later became president of that Los Angeles radio station. Young Bill Wilson found time to operate as W6GAD after high school and from his fraternity house at Stanford University. After the Second World War, he had to renew his license and passed the requisite exam to earn the call sign, K6ARO (Amateur Radio Operator). During his tenure in the Vatican City, the ambassador's many duties did not preclude the pursuit of his hobby. At his suggestion, the Knights of Columbus donated new equipment to the Vatican amateur radio station HV1CN that was officially blessed by Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, pro-president of the papal commission for the Vatican City, on July 10, 1985. At the ceremony, Ambassador Wilson himself sat down to transmit a general call, which immediately prompted responses from other radio stations. The original HV1CN first went on the air on October 8, 1957 using old army surplus equipment. In 1965, William Halligan, the founder of Hallicrafters, Inc., donated a complete station made by his firm. Of the three stations associated with the Vatican in 1985, only HV1CN transmitted from within its walls.

Over the years, Ambassador Wilson has received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including the Theodore Roosevelt Award from the Navy League of the U.S., 1981; the Brotherhood Award of the Association of Christians and Jews, 1983; and the Gold Medal of the Italian Red Cross.

Ambassador Wilson is married to Elizabeth (Johnson) Wilson, and has two daughters Anne Marie Wilson and Marcia Wilson Hobbs. The Wilson home base is in Los Angeles, California.

* * * * * * * *

The William A. Wilson papers are organized into 10 series of files, which are summarized in the Synopsis section. The largest series included the following:

* Alphabetical Correspondence - general and official unclassified correspondence from various individuals, arranged chronologically by year, with 1984 containing primarily congratulatory messages regarding the ambassador's appointment;

* Individual Correspondence - correspondence from frequent writers and notable individuals including George Bush, Alexander Haig, actress Audrey Hepburn, Mrs. Bob Hope, Coretta Scott King, Richard Nixon, Gregory Peck, Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, Frank Sinatra, New York Senator Robert Wagner, and many high-ranking church and diplomatic officials besides;

* Subject Files - include files on various concerns, issues, or projects, such as the University of California, Pennzoil Company, Israel, Korea and Libya, as well as HV1CN and the Vatican observatory. Arranged alphabetically by subject.

The collection also includes some of Ambassador's many speeches delivered on various occasions, particularly when accepting honors and awards. A sizeable amount of printed ephemera includes printed invitations, programs and menus for formal functions attended by Ambassador and Mrs. Wilson during the Vatican years (1981-1986); newsclippings covering the ambassador's appointment and resignation; and government reports and publications on issues such as diplomacy, NATO, nuclear energy, energy security, and U.S. taxes.

Span dates: 1980-1992 Bulk dates: 1981-1986

Extent: 5 boxes, 6.50 linear feet

Provenance: Gift of William A. Wilson, 1992.

Processed by Lisette C. Matano, November 1992.


AC - autograph card

ACS - autograph card signed

ALS - autograph letter signed

MSS - manuscripts

TC - typed card

TCS - typed card signed

TL - typed letter

TLS - typed letter signed

TMs - typed manuscript

a.i. - ad interim

AID - Agency for International Development (US)

DCM - deputy chief of mission (US)

IMRA - International Mission Radio Association, Inc.

WAW - William A. Wilson

BULK DATES: 1980 - 1986
SPAN DATES: 1980 - 1992

EXTENT: 5 boxes; 6.50 lf.


SERIES: 1. Alphabetical Correspondence

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 1, Folders 1-85; Box 2, Folders 1-33) This series consists of chronologically arranged correspondence received byAmbassador Wilson. Letters for each year are in alphabetical order. Mostinclude copies of replies from the ambassador. @ Note: All correspondents are listed in the description sections of thisfinding aid. However, only those names that have been asterisked appear inthe index.

SERIES: 2. Individuals Correspondence

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 2, Folders 34- ) This series consists of correspondence and material relating to notableindividuals or frequent correspondents. Arrangement is alphabetical, withpapers for each individual in chronological order.

SERIES: 3. Correspondence: Misc. (Invitations; Commercial)

SERIES DESCRIPTION: Box 3, Folders 1 - ) This series consists of invitation cards and miscellaneous correspondencefrom merchants, retailers, and the like.

SERIES: 4. Telexes

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 3, Folders 4 - ) This series consists of a mass of telexes sent by WAW during his tenure asUS envoy and ambassador to the Holy See. Organization is roughly by year;however many telexes are not dated in which case original provenance hasbeen preserved.

SERIES: 5. Subject Files I: Embassy Files

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 3, Folders 43 -) This series consists on files relating to WAW's appointment as specialrepresentative to the Vatican in 1982, and as ambassador in 1984; and tohis resignation from the post in 1986. Included are memoranda; newsreleases, transcripts and clippings. Official, unclassified memorandaregarding miscellaneous embassy matters are also included. In addition, aseries of printed diplomatic ephemera are included, such as programs andmenus for various functions hosted or attended by WAW; as well as callingcards received from various Vatican dignitaries.

SERIES: 6. Subject Files II: Miscellaneous

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 4, Folders 1 - ) This series consists of files relating to various associations, projectsand interests in which WAW participated. As a member of the Board ofRegents of the University of California and the California Post secondaryEducation Committee, WAW's active interest in American education isrepresented by the numerous files in this series on various educationassociations in which he participated.

SERIES: 7. Personal/Financial Files

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 4, Folders 25 - ) This series contains miscellaneous personal files, which include awards,passport and travel documents, as well as financial files, which includetravel/miscellaneous expense vouchers and receipts.

SERIES: 8. Speeches

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 4, Folders 37 - 44) Contains speeches by WAW.

SERIES: 9. Photographs and Muniments

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 4, Folders 44 - ) This series consists of photographs and miscellaneous items, including arecording (S.P.) of the homily given by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's for the opening of the Special Jubilee Holy Year, March 25, 1983.

SERIES: 10. Clippings and Printed Matter

SERIES DESCRIPTION: (Box 4, Folders 51 - ; Box 5, Folders 1 - ) This series consists of news article clippings about WAW, the Holy See, andmiscellaneous other matters that interested the ambassador. Printed matterincludes various association and government reports.