A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 298


Lloyd Bentsen – so nearly vice president (of WOOOF)


FARMINGTON – The death occurred, on May 23, of Lloyd Bentsen, the former U.S. senator from Texas, and as befits a political figure of the first order, his obituary packed with details was published in The New York Times, regarded by many as a newspaper of substance.

However, it is left to Farmington Corner to take care of a scarcely pardonable omission in that very obituary, and to ponder on the course that history might have taken, had Bentsen not refused one vice presidency (with remarkable grace, one should add) in order to pursue and lose another.

"Lloyd Bentsen, the senator from Texas who hopes to be the next Vice President of the United States, took the political gamble of his career, last week, by turning down the vice presidency of WOOOF, an organization sworn to hurtle Wilson Out Of Obscurity Forthwith," this column first reported back in September 1988.

(Henry Wilson, born in Farmington in 1812 under a completely different name, rose to become vice president under Ulysses S. Grant from 1873-1875.)

Farmington Corner, with uncanny prescience, asked, back then, "Has Bentsen, who is Henry Wilson's great-great-nephew, made a blunder by not accepting this vice-presidency? Some within WOOOF's hierarchy think so."

They had envisaged the senator playing a leading role in Wilson’s rehabilitation, of Bentsen subsequently being swept into the White House on a wave of New Hampshire gratitude, and then earmarking federal funds for a magnificent statue of his ancestor, right in downtown Farmington.

Two months later, it was all over. Bentsen’s fate was chained to that of presidential aspirant Governor Dukakis - he who had poked his head out of the turret of a tank, hoping to convince the nation he was a tough guy, but didn’t.

Had Bentsen accepted the vice presidency of WOOOF, how different things might have been! The prestige of that position alone would surely have been enough to neutralize the crank-in-a-tank wheeze, and if George Bush the Elder had not ascended to the throne, there would surely be a handsome bronze statue of Henry Wilson on Farmington’s town square today, an illustrious magnet for tourists, historians and pigeons.

But enough of idle speculation! Let us recall the gracious words of the lately departed Lloyd Bentsen, enshrined on U.S. Senate notepaper, in response to the invitation from WOOOF’s president.

Dear President Nolan:

It was a delightful surprise to receive your letter and especially the handsome WOOOF button that will take a prominent place in my personal collection.

I am confident I can speak for former Vice President Wilson in applauding your efforts on his behalf.

My present duties as running-mate with Governor Dukakis preclude my acceptance of the esteemed vice presidency of WOOOF at this time. Nevertheless, it was an honor and a privilege to be asked and I am sure that you will achieve your goal of salvaging Vice President Wilson from historical obscurity forthwith!

Thanks again and best wishes,


Lloyd Bentsen,

Washington, D.C. 20510

Noble sentiments. Rest in peace, gentle sir.

Since 1988, the name of Henry Wilson has met with mixed fortunes. Route 11 became Henry Wilson Highway for a while, complete with official Department of Transportation signs, but the massive importance of this change never quite registered in neighboring Rochester. Then the signs vanished.

Farmington renamed its junior high Henry Wilson Memorial School, but its annual state test scores are such that Henry, a noted reader in his youth, must be writhing in his grave.

On the plus side, Henry was given a great boost out of obscurity with a TV spotlight by New Hampshire Public Television in the fall of 2004. Much of the footage was filmed in Farmington, and indeed, that is where the show’s director was able to obtain the photograph of stoves and freezers repairman, the late Royce Hodgdon, with which the program opens and to which it frequently returns. One should explain that Royce was Henry’s reincarnation, and a visual clone thanks to George Meyer’s dinner jacket and Joe Henry’s camera skills.

Now, we should return to that bronze statue idea, for only such a heavy metal tribute has the majesty, visibility and permanence needed to punt Henry Wilson out of obscurity forthwith and onto his richly deserved plinth. He was Vice President of the United States, for goodness sakes, not some Rochester beadle plodging about in the rain on a horse. Yes, we’re referring to Parson Main, and he’s hobnobbing it up on his pedestal.

As I was saying to Beulah Thayer just the other day, "Fixing up an old town hall is a wonderful thing, but to really have vision, one is obliged to think statue."

Just imagine, if Senator Benson, rest his soul, had only taken that gamble back in 1988 and become WOOOF’s second-in-command, today Farmington would assuredly have a larger-than-life bronze replica of its most famous son and The New York Times obituary would have no excuse for the omission of several paragraphs on Bentsen’s esteemed ancestor.

What to do? What to do?

May 26, 2006


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