September 11, 2020
Chevy Chase, MD
I suppose Emmett could be considered lucky — in his life, he had at least three mentors looking out for him, shepherding him during his career, impressed by Emmett’s intelligence and potential. Emmett had a lot of potential, energy, charm, and those who know him well (in addition to the value of using these qualities in the right way) saw how mentorship could be win-win for all involved. Emmett needed cultivation, but the effort could be mutually beneficial, for both mentor and mentee.
Granted, this guidance often comes from a parent, but Emmett didn’t have that consistently. Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, just wasn’t around, especially after Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson died in 1891. I’m not picking on Dr. Wilson; most people either do not or cannot process grief. Also, not to make this a sexist shaming essay, but Dr. Wilson was the kind of man who kept everything personally uncomfortable or disturbing inside, probably because that was his training as a physician.
Case in point: One of my closest friends is my dentist. He and I have known each other for 30 years. One time I asked him about things he’s seen in patient exams – as in, has he ever been freaked out.
“Sure,” he said. “Even if it is serious, or gross, you never let it show in your expression or behavior. You have to be calm, professional for the patient, and for yourself. That’s an essential part of the training.”
And so, when I read about Dr. Wilson, it’s easy to see that he buried his personal grief and pain in work, and more work. He was not only a county physician, he opened a drugstore, and served as the county health supervisor for several years. Was Dr. Wilson a workaholic instead of or in addition to being an alcoholic? Perhaps. The need to stay constantly is often associated with addictive behavior and lifestyle.
Emmett had many collegial influences in his career, but three stand out: Cephas Wilson, Walter Kehoe, and Frank Mayes.
For a long time, I used to believe that Emmett’s first mentor, which was his brother Cephas, was a cad and only out for himself his entire life. Here’s what I wrote about Cephas about a year into the research.
Ceph’s tutelage of Emmett was the ultimate in experiential learning: Emmett received practical, hands-on legal training from arguably one of the best lawyers in Florida at the time. Cephas made Emmett do a lot of the grunt work in his law practice; more valuable was that he and Emmett would debate upcoming cases. Cephas would poke holes in Emmett’s arguments and recommended strategies, teaching him the lawyer’s art as he learned it.
Cephas was good, too. He won cases, he had big and important clients, he had a statewide reputation for being an effective jurist, and he knew all the tricks of his trade (some of them dirty). Cephas shared those tricks with Emmett…but not all of them. Ceph wasn’t stupid. He knew he may need to face his brilliant younger brother in the court room one day (and he would, but more on that in the book).
Without a doubt, Cephas modeled a successful professional life, and this made a huge impression on Emmett.
Cephas’ personal life, however, was much less successful.
There are several references in the contemporary media that Cephas was not a faithful husband, and in fact, flaunted it, without regard to the feelings of his wife or family.
Mentorship carries a huge responsibility. Everything a mentor does, says, and especially, how that mentor behaves, is instruction for the mentee. Poor behavior from a mentor can be perpetuated, especially if the mentee admires and follows the advice of his teacher, and particularly if integrity is not part of the mentor’s modus operandi.
But after six years of looking at the lives of the Wilson family closely, I’ve changed my mind about Cephas. A guy who willingly takes in several siblings over a decade, while building his own family, who helps them when his own father, Dr. Wilson is obviously distant, dealing with his own grief by isolating himself emotionally and physically from his children, has some integrity — maybe not perfect integrity — but when Cephas’ family needed him, he was always there.
Emmett lived with the Kehoe family between 1906-1918, except for a two-year period, when Emmett was ‘baching it’ in a boarding house with friends (1909-1910). It was more like Emmett was a member of the Kehoe family. Indeed, Kehoe’s great-grandson Mike Weenick, once told me in a telephone interview that his grandparents, Walter and Jennie Jenkins Kehoe, “thought the world of Emmett. That’s why they named their youngest son and my favorite uncle, for him.”
Walter and Emmett’s older brother, Cephas, were law partners in Marianna for several years before Walter was named States’ Attorney around 1902, and moved to Pensacola. Walter, therefore, knew Emmett since boyhood; knew his character, his intelligence, his potential. Walter knew and saw the REAL Emmett Wilson — the Emmett Wilson pre-alcoholic disaster.
As with any ‘family’ relationship, it was loving, frustrating, agonizing, painful — but it was honest — and the relationship between Emmett and Walter was one of the few consistencies in Emmett’s life.
Even though I know Walter and Jennie Kehoe were good to Emmett — Emmett was always treated as if he was a member of the Kehoe family — Walter had political aspirations too, and knew that a partnership with the Wilsons (Cephas primarily, but if not with Cephas, then Emmett) would likely propel him into the United States Congress, which was Walter’s ultimate goal. Walter’s continued partnership with Cephas was preferred for obvious reasons: Emmett was a neophyte in 1906, when he moved to Pensacola, an alcoholic, and immature on several levels. But the idea then (as now, sometimes) was that with a consistent home, and maybe a good woman to make it happen, Emmett would straighten up, stop drinking (or at least curtail it), settle down, and everyone’s political/power dreams would be realized.
But Walter always wanted to be a U.S. Congressman. He knew that he would need the support of the local press, especially The Pensacola Journal, if he wanted a chance to win. The kingmaker of Pensacola during the early 1900s was Frank L. Mayes, the publisher — and while Mayes liked Walter just fine, he had his own ambitions when it came to selecting the candidate for the 1912 Congressional Election, and he didn’t think Walter was up for it in 1912 — but to be honest, I believe Frank wanted someone he could manipulate — because Walter was not easily manipulated..
Frank L. Mayes was, indeed, the guy who brought Emmett out of obscurity to national prominence as a U.S. Congressman in time for the 1912 election.
Thing is, there was a price:
All Emmett had to do was follow Mayes’ bidding in Washington, D.C.; follow Mayes’ directives on different policy development that would benefit West Florida without question, and Emmett could expect, upon leaving Congress, a nice, cushy job on the Florida State Supreme Court (which Mayes KNEW was Emmett’s lifelong goal).
What Mayes didn’t realize was that despite Emmett’s terrible addiction, he had a good heart, and integrity. Although Emmett was already a full-blown alcoholic when he took the oath of office on March 4, 1913; Mayes wasn’t stupid: he knew that, too and likely figured Emmett would spend a lot of his time soused, a little out of his mind, and would probably just do as he was told.
As we’ll learn later on in Emmett’s story, Mayes underestimated Emmett’s character, which makes me feel good. I believe that even though Emmett was often inebriated and/or incoherent during his time in Washington, D.C., he did try to do what was best, though he ultimately was was tripped up by Mayes’ politics and ambitions. Emmett really did want to do a good job for his constituency. Mayes was only focused on satisfying his ambitions.
Here are my thoughts and questions still, six years into this research:
— What did Cephas or Walter tell Emmett about managing his personal life, for instance, especially once he became popular? Or, a congressman? Women threw themselves at Cephas; no doubt they did the same with Emmett. Did they advise him on what to say — or not to say — to stay out of trouble?
— Walter Kehoe looked upon Emmett as another son; gave him a home almost the entire time Emmett lived in Pensacola, eventually taking him in as a law partner, naming his youngest son for Emmett. Their lives were intertwined — so, I wonder what Kehoe may have said to Emmett about his ambition? Or the fact that Emmett wasn’t willing to settle down with a young woman and start his own family? Or the fact that Emmett spent a lot of time in the Osceola Club, coming home late at night often — or not at all — spending much of his income on his tab at the club?
And one thing that really troubles me: Emmett may have been able to hide his drinking in the early years, but around 1911-1913, it was obvious that he was a heavy drinker, and it was starting to interfere with his professional and personal behavior. There were many clues, especially after 1913 when he was ‘sick’ often, missing votes in the House of Representatives, and so forth. His voting record was poor — as was his health, obviously. People close to him, such as his personal secretary, were making excuses for him being out of office, making doctor’s appointments for him, covering for his work.
— So, why was Frank Mayes, a prohibitionist, supporting Emmett for congress in 1912? Why did he take such a chance on a new, untried political candidate who was obviously drinking too much?
Mayes was far from stupid; he was an astute observer of people. Much has been written of Mayes’ ability to speak to his readers on a variety of topics from a deep understanding of the issues that mattered the most to the people of West Florida. That’s why Mayes, an outsider originally from Illinois, was such a success in Florida.
Even though I’ve collected a lot of information in six years, I’m still surprised and pleased at the new things that come to light. Maybe some of these questions will be answered as I continue to write Emmett’s story. Stay tuned.
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