Raconteur “Riley” Wilson died on October 6, 1952, at age 69. The Kanawha County native was a lawyer by trade, but a close friend noted that Wilson rarely practiced law.
He took few, if any, cases for decades at a time. Instead, Wilson earned his living as an entertainer and developed a national reputation. He traveled the country as a storyteller and toastmaster, toured on the vaudeville circuit, and made national radio appearances.
Wilson’s best stories came from rural West Virginia, often provided by his brother, a Lincoln County lawyer. He published at least two books: Reach Me the Tin and From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Charleston, West Virginia, Via Nome, Alaska.
He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1920 and later served in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration as a member of the National Bituminous Coal Administration. Wilson became seriously ill while attending the 1949 inauguration of President Harry Truman and died three years later. Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie version of Davis Grubb’s novel Fools’ Parade was based in part on Wilson.
Riley Wilson is still regarded as one of the greatest storytellers of his day.