William A. Wilson, the first American to serve as ambassador to the Vatican and a member of President Ronald Reagan's "kitchen cabinet" of advisers, has died. He was 95.
Wilson was among a group of about a dozen conservative, wealthy Los Angeles businessmen who became confidantes and advisers to Reagan, first as he sought to become governor of California, and later, president. They also helped bankroll his campaigns for office.
Wilson died around 1 a.m. Saturday at his home in Carmel, said his daughter, Marcia Wilson Hobbs.
A rancher and horse lover by nature, Wilson grew up in Los Angeles and studied the family business, oil, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, where he met his future wife, Elizabeth. After graduation, he joined his father's company, Web Wilson Oil Tools.
Reagan first appointed Wilson as presidential envoy to Rome in 1981, when the United States did not have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican because of an 1867 U.S. law that prohibited establishing such ties to maintain separation of church and state.
In 1984, after the law was repealed, Reagan appointed Wilson as the first ambassador and served in the post for about two years, according to an obituary released by the family.
"He was a delightful, gentlemanly like man of the old school and he was the perfect diplomat," said longtime family friend Bee Canterbury Lavery. She said the Wilsons outfitted the residence in Rome with beautiful furniture. "They were the first ones, and so they really furnished the American Embassy there in Rome."
Elizabeth Wilson, who grew up in a well-connected wealthy L.A. family, also developed a close friendship with Nancy Reagan after the couples met at a party in 1960, hosting annual birthday parties for the first lady at the family's ranch in Riverside County, according to a Vanity Fair profile of Nancy Reagan. Elizabeth Wilson died in 1996.
The Wilsons also owned a ranch in Sonora, Mexico, where Reagan often vacationed and where he famously was thrown from his horse.
Hobbs said beyond his distinguished biography, Wilson was a good dad.
"He was the best. He was a great father, he was very loving and very doting," said Hobbs, who was with her father when he died.
Wilson is survived by two daughters, Hobbs, of Los Angeles, and Anna Marie Wilson of Sonora, Mexico, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services were pending in Los Angeles.