Visit with Wise, other classmates clears up old mystery
Wednesday October 27, 2004



I suppose you can go home again, if only for a day or two -- especially if there is a good reason, such as to attend your high school class reunion at the Governor's Mansion, hosted by the governor himself.

That's where I found myself on Oct. 22, at the 38th-year reunion of George Washington High School's Class of 1966, which included outgoing Gov. Bob Wise and about 475 others from South Hills, Loudon Heights, Fort Hill and Alum Creek.

I drove in all the way from San Antonio, Texas, where I'm a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.

It was my first class reunion; I never heard about the 25th, which was the first for our class; and I bailed on the 30th, even though I had a plane ticket from my then-home in Fort Worth, Texas. I waited too long to book a hotel room, and there was some sort of Amway convention in town that weekend -- the nearest room to be found was in Beckley.

Gov. Wise had planned to host the 35th year reunion at the mansion in summer 2001, but for some reason it was canceled at the last minute.

So that's how we got to the 38th year reunion. That's not a normal milestone for a class get-together, but it was the last chance for Bob to invite his classmates to the Governor's Mansion, seeing as how he'll be vacating the premises come January.

Out of the 475 or so seniors in my class, Bob was one of my favorites, even though he was a Democrat (even then) with whom I'd had several heated debates about politics. I was a Republican (even then).

Bob was vice-president of the Student Council in our senior year, perhaps an early indication that he might be headed into politics. He also was senior patrol leader at Boy Scout Troop 15 at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in South Hills, where I was a member and also a senior patrol leader.

Because I left Charleston shortly after graduation and returned only for a couple of years in the late 70s to work as assistant city editor and state editor of the Daily Mail, I hadn't seen most of my classmates, including Gov. Wise, since graduation.

Frankly, I hadn't missed most of them. Although I grew up in South Hills in the home now occupied by secretary of state candidate Betty Ireland, I never really clicked with the moneyed kids who went to GW. My dad was just an engineer at Union Carbide, and mother a teacher, so we didn't quite fit into Hill society.

To Gov. Wise's credit, he didn't put on airs like a lot of those kids did, and he would associate with the rest of us. There, again, was another indication that perhaps he would do well in politics.

Secretly, my primary motivation for going to the reunion wasn't to see Bob Wise or the Governor's Mansion.

I just wanted to see Sally Ullum Davidsonone more time, the girl I once believed to be the love of my life. She was my girlfriend throughout the seventh, eighth and ninth grades at John Adams Junior High, and I hadn't seen her since graduation, never knew what happened to her. In fact, I had never had a meaningful conversation with her since her parents broke us up late in the ninth grade, and I was forbidden by the junior high principal from even speaking to her at school.
What I didn't know was that she was once the object of Bob Wise's affection.

In the mid-90s, while Bob was serving in Congress, I became friends with then-U.S. Rep. Pete Gehren, D-Fort Worth. Pete told me that he knew Bob, and that they served on a committee together. I asked him to mention my name to Bob to see if he remembered me.

The next time I saw Pete, he said that he had asked Bob about me, and that Bob had told him, "The thing I remember most about Chambers Williams is that he stole my first girlfriend away from me."

I've wondered about that ever since; I didn't remember taking a girl away from Bob. Sally was my only girlfriend throughout junior high school, and all through high school I went with a girl named Mary Lou, who attended Charleston High and graduated a year behind me. She didn't even know Bob Wise, as she was still at Thomas Jefferson Junior High during my sophomore year, when all of the GW Class of 66 was attending Charleston High (GW opened in time for our junior year).

In 2002, I got Bob's e-mail address from his sister, Alethea, who also lives in San Antonio, and I wrote to Bob trying to clear up the mystery about the girl I supposedly stole away from him.

I never got a response to my e-mail, so when I showed up at Friday night's reunion, the question was still very much on my mind.

After seeing Sally again for the first time in nearly four decades, and ascertaining from her that to her knowledge, Bob Wise was never her boyfriend, I walked up to the man himself and asked.

"You know, Bob," I said, "when my friend Pete Gehren asked you a few years ago if you remembered me, you told him I had stolen your first girlfriend away from you. Who in the world was it?"

Without a moment's hesitation, he looked at me and said, "Sally. On the first day of seventh grade, you and I both set our sights on her, and you won her."

Well, what a surprise. He never mentioned this to me all through junior high and high school, and never at Troop 15 meetings or weekend troop campouts in Kanawha State Forest.

And most surprising of all, he apparently never told Sally he was even interested. That's what she told me Friday night after I conveyed Bob's comment to her.

"What?" she said, incredulous.

At least, for me, the mystery is finally solved. And besides Bob, I got to see classmates I hadn't seen for nearly 40 years, some of whom -- such as Sally -- still looked just as they did way back then. I also got to re-introduce to my classmates my new wife, the former Jayne Gragg -- also of the GWHS Class of 1966. She was my best friend all through GW, although she was never my girlfriend then. (She even wrote in my senior yearbook, "Good luck with Mary Lou.")

But we stayed in touch over the years, as best friends should, and last year came to the realization that we belonged together. I came back to Charleston and got her, and we were married Nov. 8.

So, you see, you can go home again, if only for a little while -- perhaps to clear up loose ends and even a mystery.

G. Chambers Williams III is automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News; you may contact him at (210) 250-3236 or