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William A. Wilson Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS148

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

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

ABBREVIATIONS 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


  • 1980 - 1992

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

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 was married to Elizabeth (Johnson) Wilson, and had two daughters Anne Marie Wilson and Marcia Wilson Hobbs. He died in 2009.


6.5 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials



Provenance: Gift of William A. Wilson, 1992.

William A. Wilson Papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057