September 15, 2014
Chevy Chase, MD
My relationship with Sue Tindal, Deputy Clerk, Jackson County (FL) Clerk of Courts began with a cold call — a cold email message — actually. I admit I dithered over it for a week or more. After decades of being in this business I still cringe before making cold calls to possible connections. I struggle with the possibility of rejection, even though my logical mind knows it’s nothing personal if someone can’t help me (either for lack of permission, for regulation, or for lack of information). Illogical, I know.
But I am so glad I sent the message to her.
Her response was fast:
Just that first line — “What luck!” — made my heart pound with excitement! Sue knew who Cephas Love Wilson, and so, would likely be able to find something about Emmett between 1904-1906 (the time period that was blank in my research on Emmett’s life so far). I was so thrilled! Buoyed by the excitement, I fired back an enthusiastic thank-you note.
Within a day, Sue and I exchanged several email messages, some of which included interesting historical background about Marianna and local residents who had connections to the Wilson family.:
Wow — Emmett’s cases when he was right out of law school. The third paragraph was an interesting and accurate view of Emmett’s early practice, but in a follow-up message to Sue, I assured her that other than the fact he and Emmett both were alcoholics, Emmett wasn’t anything like Eliot Ness.
Rather, Emmett’s move up the ladder was more influence than anything, as he was working in the shadow of his talented and wily older brother, who was an exceptionally well-established lawyer in Florida. She and I would go back and forth over the next several days, exchanging email messages discussing other Wilson family and friends who lived in Marianna (J. Walter Kehoe, W.E.B. Smith [Emmett’s brother-in-law] and the McKinnon family, who were related to the Wilsons by marriage).
The story of Cephas and Emmett as law partners is one of several influences Emmett was able to use to get jobs, build a career, build society standing. If you look closely over the chapters, you’ll notice this was a pattern all his life — yes, Emmett was smart, and he was able to do his job — but it always seemed like he was self-destructive along the way. It wasn’t enough.
Several months later, after Sue and I had been talking about Emmett and his story, and whether he was brilliant, his demise was tragic, or was it something else, Sue sent me the following message:
Did we think Emmett Wilson was ‘brilliant’?
No. (Sorry, Emmett.)
We figured that if Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have had more emotional/psychological maturity. Some of this wasn’t exactly Emmett’s fault: He was, according to several sources, being pushed up the political ladder faster and at a younger age than anyone before (for example, he was the youngest District Attorney in the United States in 1907), and, it was also reported, before he was ready. Emmett wasn’t quite ready, but he was listening to the crummy advisors, and doing their bidding.
And if Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d likely had been aware of what was going on. He’d have seen that he was being pushed beyond his experience and education.
I think Emmett did see this, now and then; that he had moments of clarity with regard to the heights he’d climbed politically, socially, professionally, with not much of a safety net beneath him, other than whoever it was manipulating the puppet strings of his life. Those moments of clarity scared the hell out him.
If he screwed up, there would be definitely be hell to pay, and his dream of occupying the same bench as his revered grandfather, would be dashed.
Emmett had the talent, definitely; he could do the work he was given. But he was mostly acting the part he was assigned.
Sue and I determined that Emmett was also, most definitely, mega-talented. He could play the role he was given; he was a good lawyer. Is that brilliance? Maybe. Maybe not.
But one thing we did believe for sure: Emmett was definitely self-destructive.
Some of the content above reposted from an earlier entry.
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