Gallery #6
Robert E. Lee "Bob" Wilson, III

R.E.L. Wilson, IIIOne of the most prominent figures in the long history of Lee Wilson & Company was Robert E. Lee Wilson, III. Bob graduated from Yale in 1936, later serving in the United States Army during the Second World War. Assuming control of the company in 1951, Wilson guided Lee Wilson & Company for three decades.

In an interview he gave in 1985, Bob described what southern Mississippi County looked like in the early 1930s. The land was still marked by the great hardwood cuttings of the past. "This land was a sea of stumps," Wilson declared. No one had the money to do away with them. So the cotton was planted amongst them, often in wavy rows that would make a modern farmer cringe.

Transportation in Mississippi County was nothing to be taken for granted. Passable roads were limited at best, and they turned to muddy, murky lakes at the first rain. Railroad transportation thus was crucial. One of Wilson's favorite stories was that of the "disappearing railroad." As his father and grandfather had cut deeper into the timber, they laid small tracks of rail leading back to the numerous small sawmills scattered throughout southern Mississippi County. On normal lines, track was laid on cut cross-ties and fixed firmly into the bed of the road. There was no time to do that here. Track was laid on freshly cut logs and the road was staked down, so that it would not float away when the rains, and resultant floods, came. Bob described the surrealistic experience of steaming down one of these flooded railways. Both to the front and to the back the track would disappear under the water as the weight of the train pressed the tracks down.

R.E.L. Wilson, 
IIIWhen asked how Wilson had changed over the years, Bob claimed that it had made the successful transition from a company town to a family-oriented, incorporated community. In the early 1940s, the only people who lived and worked in Wilson were Wilson employees. But the company discovered that running the town--as they ran their businesses--was pointless, producing yearly losses exceeding $75,000. After the Second World War, the company decided to sell their homes to the employees. Most of them homes were purchased for about $4,000. Overnight, the town of Wilson began to operate at a profit. In addition, privatization of the town changed its character. Wilson argued that home ownership made the citizens happier, giving them yet another personal stake in the area's prosperity.

Wilson firmly believed that education was the cure for most social and economic problems. But it was a "slow cure," one that required decades of hard work, constant reinvestment, and serious struggle. "Life today," Wilson argued in 1985, "is so complicated that you cannot compete without" education. Under his leadership the company and the Wilson family continued to be great benefactors of the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University. Wilson was also directly responsible in the founding of Mississippi County Community College in Blytheville, serving as one its first trustees.

Polo on the Delta

During his days at Yale, Wilson grew to love polo. Once he returned home he created his own polo field in the midst of the world's largest cotton plantation.

The hunt

The Wilson family were no strangers to local, state, and national politics. In this photograph, Wilson (far right), Senator J. William Fulbright (second from right) and two unidentified men pose with freshly killed deer.

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