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Washington gives Charlie Wilson a fond, fitting send-off

In October 1988, Charlie Wilson poses with a British Enfield rifle in his Capitol Hill office. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)

Charlie Wilson
was, to quote former House speaker Jim Wright, "the only man who could strut sitting down." Washington will never see the likes of the colorful (to say the least) Texas congressman again, so friends, former colleagues and staffers bade him a fond, final send-off Tuesday.

"Good Time Charlie," who died Feb.10 at age 76, "had the life all of us wished we had -- as long as our constituents didn't find out about it," said Rep. Steny Hoyer at the farewell reception in the Rayburn Building.

A quick scan of the then-bachelor's 12 terms in Congress reads like a novel: politics, women, guns, drugs, the CIA, booze, sex and a covert operation that funneled millions of dollars to Afghan rebels in the 1980s and ended the Cold War. It was all true -- even "Charlie Wilson's War," the 2007 movie starring Tom Hanks, failed to capture the depth and scope of his high jinks. "People accepted Charlie as he was, but there was a lot more latitude in Congress in those days," former congressman Tom McMillen said.

Barbara Wilson reaches out to touch her husband's casket during his burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

But the liberal Democrat got away with all of it. "There was no hypocrisy with Charlie," Dan Glickman said. "He was nice to everyone. I don't think he had any enemies." Why? Because he was a shrewd politician and a patriot, said Reps. Norm Dicks, Jerry Lewis and others.

Wilson was also an unlikely feminist, hiring a bevy of tall, pretty, smart women known as "Charlie's Angels" for his congressional office. "It's amazing the things you can pull off when you're attractive and intelligent," said Peggy Love, one of the 19 Angels at the reception.

Men and women adored Wilson: Speaker Nancy Pelosi dropped by to pay respects to his widow, Barbara; his former fiancee, Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts in the movie), stood near the door wearing royal blue dyed fox.

Wilson loved a good party but didn't want a lot of fuss when he died, so there was no memorial service in Washington. His one concession to pomp: The Navy veteran was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday morning.

By The Reliable Source  |  February 24, 2010; 1:02 AM ET
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Sure, he was an unlikely feminist.

A conservative Republican could never say "You can teach 'em to type but you can't teach 'em to grow (you know what)."

R.I.P., Charlie.

You were sui generis.

Posted by: gmuhokie2009 | February 24, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

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