PeopleSkip to the content

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins

Featured photo is U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins and her husband Gene, pictured with their family and President Ronald Reagan.

Pictured from left to right: Senator Paula Hawkins, Kelley Hawkins (McCoy), Jean Hawkins, Kevin Hawkins, Gene Hawkins, President Ronald Reagan, Genean McKinnon, and Joel McKinnon.

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins, spouse of Paula Hawkins, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate based on her own attributes and the first woman to be a senator from Florida.

LISTEN Part I (18:18)   (Text highlights from audio.)


My name is Walter E. Hawkins I was born in Atlanta, Georgia December 25, 1923.

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?

Well, going to church was always important. But otherwise… my mother had six children. I was the youngest. And so, typically going to church was a very important item and took quite a bit of time on Sunday. We were very poor so we didn’t do really grand things on Sunday except church.

What did your parents do for a living?

My father was a house painter and my mother was a housewife. My mother was the mother of six. And an interesting thing, my father died when I was two years old and left my mother a widow with six small children. So therefore we, much of this was during the Depression, so we had a very hard time in terms of economic things.. Well, see my mother had no official training for the business world, but she did sew for Goodwill, made very little money. But she did later attend a business school where she learned the important things in those days: shorthand, typing. And so, she eventually was hired for a civil service position after she had gone to school and qualified herself. And she remained in that activity until she retired. It’s very interesting. Yes, she still raised six children, very difficult.

Newspaper sales boy for The Atlanta Georgian

I, at the age of eight years old in Atlanta, I walked downtown and sold newspapers on the street. [The Atlanta Constitution?] It was called The Atlanta Georgia, it later became one. But during my youth it was The Atlanta Georgian. And I would sell that newspaper for 5 cents and I would make 2 cents. [That’s a lot.] That was good. [Who determined the profit margin. Did the paper?] Yeah, the paper. Two cents, that’s 40%. [That was a great job at the time wasn’t it?] Oh, yes, it really was. And I was happy to have it and all of the six children worked at something to help bring in enough money for us.

Where did you go to school?

I went to grammar school, it was Williams Street School and then later Bass Junior High School, and then, Atlanta Tech High School… I got a conventional education in English and math and all of that. But they did have a lot of courses that you would say would be technical. Operating instruments and ham radio and that kind of thing… And in those days Atlanta had no coeducational school. We had girls high, we had boys high, we had tech high. It was very novel. Eventually after the war, they became integrated with boys and girls in the same school.

World War II

World War II, as you know as December 7, 1941, I graduated from Tech High about three months later and I wanted to be useful, but I was very young. I did join the service and for training initially. I went for training in electronics for radio and radar because that was heavily needed in the war. And so, I went to school at Georgia Tech not for college education, but just for the opportunity to learn elementary electronics and so forth. I went there and I also went to Philadelphia Philco School all to teach me radio repair, radar and those type things. And so, finally, I finished that about a year later. And then I was called up for active duty in April 1943. And that’s when I went into the service and I utilized these skills. I was in the Pacific. And so, I did a number of assignments connected with radio, radar, and other technical things.

Army Signal Corps Active Duty in the Pacific

After the preliminary training I received then when I was in the Army I utilized that training in repairing radios and other technical things. And so, my entire career in active duty in the Pacific in the Army was taken up in technical assignments. [And was this the Army Air Corps?] It was the Signal Corps, the Army Signal Corps and I was attached to the 8th Army under General Douglas MacArthur….

You were in Japan?

Yes, I was at the end of the war, very important. I was in Manila, the Philippines, and the bombs were dropped. You know, the famous bombs, and so, Japan surrendered. And very soon thereafter, there had to be an occupying force to go to Japan. It was initially not large and I was one of those selected to go because of my training. Because we had the task of visiting their factories where they produced goods for their army and their air force and so forth.

Technical Intelligence

So I was with a small outfit called technical intelligence. Only five of us. I was electronics, someone else was chemistry, you know the news for covering such things as war producing plants. And so, I did go along with the several hundred that occupied Japan very early. And our group was called technical intelligence and we had the assignment of visiting the so called war plants that Japan had and evaluating and making sure they were dormant. And that was very interesting.

A Japanese silk parachute…

And a little side bar story, at one of those plants, a colonel gave me a parachute… and maybe you know that Japanese silk that comprises a parachute is very high quality. The silk products they excelled in. So, I didn’t know what to do with this parachute, but I shipped it home to Paula and at this time she lived in Logan, UT. And I thought nothing of it. But to finish the story, I’ll show you a picture when we married in September 1947 in Logan, UT where she had moved to. And unbeknown to me her mother had taken all the silk out of it and had made it into a wedding gown… so that’s an example of bringing home not a pistol or relic such as that, but a device that became Paula’s wedding dress…

Gene and Paula Hawkins wedded on September 5, 1947 in Logan, Utah.

At this point in history am I allowed to ask what your impression was or was this all top secret?

No. No secrets. Japan had surrendered and there was no element of animosity. They were very humble and they yielded any and everything we GI’s needed. And so, when we landed in Yakima and got aboard trucks and drove to Tokyo 20 miles away, we didn’t know what to expect from the Japanese people. Would they be fierce? They were known as Kamikaze pilots and so forth. So we were apprehensive. But after we landed and got on the Army trucks and we went to Tokyo 20 miles the people were so subservient and they were bowing, they were bowing – Obeisance is the word – as we drove  and drove. And that was a remarkable discovery on our part. They truly, and history has shown that, Japan became a great ally of ours and they are to this day…      

The GI Bill

A great thing our government did for the military people was offer what we call the GI Bill. College tuition, expenses for getting an education and I took advantage of everything I could. Receiving a bachelors’ degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech. I could not have done this otherwise because our family was very poor. Was your mother alive when you graduated? Yes, yes she was and I know she was proud.

LISTEN Part II (12:53)


Career path to Central Florida…

After I received my electrical engineering education, I entered the electronics field in sales instead of design. I always loved to sell and meet people. I got started in that at eight years old selling newspapers in Atlanta. I always enjoyed meeting people and I learned to form associations that were good. And so, when I finished, the chief things I did after college was in the field of sales. And, very interesting. And eventually I ended up having a partnership with another person here in Florida. That’s what brought me to Florida in sales and what I sold was electronic components such as fuses and capacitors and so forth. And I really enjoyed that; it became my career.

Manufacturer’s Representative Agency

And what brought me to Florida, I had joined this, it’s called Manufacturer’s Representative Agency which was a sales agency and we represented manufacturers who made such things as fuses, capacitors, and so forth. And I started out with them in Atlanta and traveled seven states. And after two to three years, they saw that they needed to have an operation in Florida with headquarters here. And I was chosen out of the seven sales people. I was chosen to come to Florida, open the office and expand the sales here. And this was 1945. I moved my family from Atlanta to Winter Park and began to expand the business throughout Florida.  


Yeah, the company became known as HHP, which was Hawkins, Hoto, and Peregoy, which became HHP. And we traveled the entire state selling electronic components, products which, we represented approximately 18 components, 15-18 companies there. We would sell their products and receive a commission because we had the territory as an exclusive territory. And I continued in that realm for almost 40 years in Florida until I retired and I sold my portion of the business. 

Who were you selling the components to, would this be for use in space or construction?

It would be like Martin Company or Harris Company. Mainly it was wholesale distributors such as Hughes Supply, Hammond Electronics, and so forth. We had many customers. I’ll put a little parentheses on this. This was before the Internet. Now, the Internet has almost destroyed that business whereby people call, knock on the door, and meet the customer and write orders. Now as you know, all that’s done by the Internet….

Basically, the products these wholesale distributors were selling locally were technical devices or components. And they had to stock them locally. For example, in Orlando I probably had 10 distributors and I would call on them or our people would, write orders, and shake hands, thank you very much. The relationships were strong and very beneficial.

What was the climate like doing business in Florida at that time? Was it a good place to do business?

It was a growing place and it was a good place. Because industry was expanding, moving in, and the developments, when I came down here television was in its infancy so television became a growth industry. But we would sell parts, replacement parts for television and radio and so forth and that was a growing business. And also Martin opened and we sold [to] Martin; Harris opened and we sold [to] Harris. And a number of other producing businesses came to Florida. And as they came we would sell products to them. So it turned out I was in that business 40 years before I retired.

And at just the right time.

Yes, it was at the right time. That’s right. And, I might say this, that when we came to Florida, Paula was truly a housewife. And we lived in, we first rented in Winter Park. Later we built a home in Maitland and that’s how she in the political realm came to be known, as she eased into politics she became known as the Maitland housewife. You’ll find that in some of the writings. But she had no intent nor did I to see her meander into politics. She was a true housewife and at this time we had a total of three children… I have eleven grandchildren and twenty three great grandchildren.

Where did you meet Paula Fix?

I met her at church in Atlanta. She and I were the same Mormon faith. And her parents moved from Rhode Island to Atlanta because her father, who was a lifetime naval person, he worked for the Navy and he was transferred to the Georgia Tech Naval Unit in Atlanta. And at that time Paula was around nine years old and her family was religious, quite religious and attended the same church that I did. So we met at church… We would go to some of the dances. Dancing was a big thing in those days. Bands like Henry James, Glenn Miller, and other big band type bands. And we would go to dances. And we would jitterbug together and other dances of the day. Oh, she could really dance. And, in those days, young ladies, teenagers, dancing was a big thing and it was very usual for young girls like that to become good at dancing. It’s not quite the same today.

LISTEN Part III (19:42)



We married in Logan, UT and one of the reasons, Mormons, the ideal location for a marriage is in the temple and so, we married in the temple in Logan, UT. It’s called the Logan Temple… it was built in approximately 1850… and that’s where we were married… We were married civilly September 5 in 1947 and then ten days later we were married in the Temple which is vastly more binding. We marry for time and eternity and so forth. So it’s a special, very special thing to be married in the temple. But civilly, is equally, it’s important but there are more eternal consequences from a marriage in a temple. And so, there was ten days a part in the temple in Logan. And, if you don’t have the date, it was September 15, 1947.

That was a very important time to get married in our country wasn’t it?

You’re right. It was. That’s exactly right. We had the war and people began to establish families. And marriage was a big deal and more plentiful than today….

In addition to serving our country in WWII as you did, you also, in the history of our country went on to be greatly admired for your role in supporting your wife, Senator Paula Hawkins, as she served our country in the U.S. Senate. I’m sure when you got married you never anticipated the role you would have?

And, in fact, if I could say this, when we married neither she nor I had any idea that she would enter the political realm. I can tell you just a little bit how this came about. She was always conservative, loved the country, loved the Founding Fathers. She was a very, very patriotic person naturally. 

Republican Party Orange County Committee Woman for Maitland

And so when we lived in Maitland, maybe you know this story, Maitland did not have sewers, septic tanks all over Maitland. And, Paula said, “Hey, we’re old enough, The City of Maitland, to have sewers.” And Dommerich Estates was just being built. You know Dommerich? And they were putting in streets… There’s a gap here. I was traveling and she had to have something to do. So she joined the Republican Party Orange County Committee as what we call a committee woman for Maitland, her precinct in Dommerich. And that put her for the first time in the political realm.

Community Activist

But then more particularly, when they were putting in streets for Dommerich it was a natural to put in sewer lines. And forget about septic tanks. I don’t have to tell you why. But as a mother she was very concerned about that. But the city fathers didn’t want to spend the money for sewer lines and so forth. But they were putting in the streets. So she became very intense about this. And the city fathers would not move. So she put together a group of people who felt the same way. Some of them were Martin people and other assorted, but you had to hustle them up, put them together, and activate. And she was the root doer. And a number of these people as I say worked at Martin and so, they selected people as candidates for mayor, city council, and so forth. They became fairly widely known.

Housewife Paula Hawkins pictured here with her husband Gene, and their children, Genean, Kelley, and Kevin in front of  their  Central Florida home, circa 1958.

Maitland Housewife and Community Leader

And so they would meet and Paula was basically the leader and they all felt the same way and so they recruited. Paula wasn’t recruited as a city councilman or mayor, but she was the pusher, the doer. They would meet in our house and they filed for public office and then they campaigned in Maitland by phone or whatever. And each one of them won. One of them was a professor at Rollins. He became the mayor. And it was truly a ground up affair. And she became known fairly widely for this. And, I guess, maybe that’s where she got the term “Maitland housewife” because she was.

Paula Hawkins Post Office Building

But anyway, here’s something that you may know, you may not. The Maitland Post Office it’s named after Paula Hawkins. And if you ever go to the Maitland Post Office, you’ll find a bust of her and her name. And her dear friend, John Mica put this together. By this time, John had been her aide early on when she was first in the Senate. And he saw the many things that she did in Washington. He went to work getting approval in the House of Representatives to have the Maitland Post Office named after Paula Hawkins…. It was in recognition of what she had done by this time. 

Tell us about your role supporting Paula Hawkins…

Well, it began as I saw the activity in Maitland, what she did politically to achieve Maitland having sewers. It was very political and that was her first activity. And so, she did it so well, and became fairly well known in Maitland for that achievement. And, I guess, you could say that she kind of liked the task and the achievement. It’s there today. And that’s one of the reasons why she’s in that post office. Between that and also she became in the Republican Party a precinct committee woman… And I’m watching all this. I’m running my business and doing all that. But I’m kind of watching the amazing things Paula did. And as a precinct committee woman for Orange County Republicans she was very active in that and worked hard. When there was an election she knocked on doors like a trooper and handed out literature. She had not become notable countywide, but in Maitland she had become very notable. Anyway, she worked so hard and I’m seeing all this and I’m saying to myself, Paula Hawkins is really something that I did not realize I married. But here I see Paula go from a true housewife to the lower stages of the political realm…

Running for the Public Service Commission

They asked her to run for state office, the Republican Party in Florida. And, a likely thing they felt was she was a housewife, run for the Public Service Commission that was statewide. There were three public service commissioners and the Public Service Commission, you probably know, they have control over the companies that have the electrical, the telephone, all of those companies that are basically without competition in their area: Florida Power, Florida Power and Light, and so forth; the duty of the Public Service Commission and, it still is, to regulate those utilities. And so, the leaders of the state Republican Party had seen what Paula – what a dynamite she was. And they said, “Paula, there’s a seat open in the Public Service Commission and because you are a housewife you know all about the domestic things; you pay the bills and so forth. You use electricity. Why don’t you run for the Public Service Commission? And, I got a phone call one day, “Gene, we want Paula to run for the Public Service Commission.” I said, “Wow, she can’t do that.” And they said, “We think that she can. Would you let her?” Well, here I am, she’s going like a freight train, can I say, no I don’t want her to run? I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t do that because I love the Republican Party. I’m a loyal Republican and we wanted to see the party grow in Florida. So I finally said, “Well, okay.”       

LISTEN Part IV (19:17)


So it was, nobody knew her statewide. She was known in Central Florida. So she had to run Panhandle, Jacksonville, you know, the whole state. And the Democrat who was going to run, he was a senator, a state senator from Miami. And he had a following, had financial backing already. And that’s, it’s like David and Goliath if you will. So here, this gal took oh, by this time the exhilaration in her was strong, you know. The can do, will do, and so forth. I didn’t think she had a prayer. So she signed up to run. Had no money – I say no money – the kind of money it takes to run statewide. 

Paula’s Listening Post

So I’ll tell you what she did. She had a friend who had a Winnebago that would loan the campaign a Winnebago. And Paula said, “Okay, we’ll borrow that.” And she got some young students from FSU to drive it and go with her. I’d say that she got five teenagers, boys and girls, to go with her. She’s fascinating at this time and making history in a local way. So, they took this Winnebago and made a sign around it. That picture’s somewhere – Paula’s Listening Post. And she would, they would all get in there and she’d go to the malls. 

“I’m Paula Hawkins and I’m running for Public Serrvice Commission…”

In those days, the malls were very important. She’d go, let’s say for example, like Ft. Lauderdale Mall and she would carry a microphone, and nobody knew her in these locations. She’s walk up and say, “I’m Paula Hawkins and I’m running for Public Service Commission and I have the background for it because I use electricity, I use the telephone, I’m a housewife, and I’m a customer so I understand what’s needed to regulate these monopolies.” She did this again and again all over. It was amazing.And somehow, the press began to see this and they’d write a little story and it became novel and it was just unbelievable. She didn’t have the money, but the rented Winnebago and these students glad to help – it was unbelievable.

Paula Wins the Public Television Debate

So there was a debate at the end of the campaign between this professional Democrat Senator who was running for the Public Service Commission… and he had the recognition, had money… I use the expression David and Goliath. So anyway, there was as time wore on, the media got very interested in this novel thing. And they began to write more and more. And then at the end of the campaign, there was a debate on public television. And Paula, she really creamed him. I shouldn’t use that expression. She really won that debate. And overnight, the polls had showed she didn’t have a chance, but this public debate was viewed by a lot of people because it was novel. Nobody thought that Paula could win. But anyway, she debated this state senator, Democrat from Miami, and basically she won the debate. No question about it. And, got exposure, considerable exposure that night. And the election was held and she won by just that much. It was remarkable. It’s never been done again. I don’t think it ever will be done again. No money, but a will and an intrinsic talent. Handshaking thousands and thousands of people in those malls. And you get the media’s interest…

So that was in November of 1972 and then she got reelected to the Public Service Commission and she ended up serving as Chairman of the Commission from 1977 to 1979. And she was the first Republican and first woman to serve on the Commission since 1887.

It was quite an achievement. She did become chairman and the other way she really, really made her future, when there’s a rate increase, let’s say, Florida Power, for example, we need a rate increase. And you apply to the Public Service Commission. And then the Public Service Commission, they had the lawyers, and they had these three commissioners and they would hear the case in headquarters in Tallahassee. And Paula’s watching all this.  And they met in secret. That was what they did. And Paula said, “This is wrong.” That is what they did. She said it again and again. This is, we should come under the Sunshine Law. And the commissioners said, “No, we’ve never come under the Sunshine Law.” And their own attorney said, “No, Public Service Commission does not come under the Sunshine Law.” But Paula said, “We’ll find out.” 

Public Service Commission Comes Under the Sunshine Law

And so, she went to a Democrat senator,,, he was the attorney general for the state… and she said, “Please check. I believe that we come under the Sunshine Law.” (Which means that the press can come in…) “I’ll check and let you know Commissioner.” I don’t know, two weeks later or whatever it was, he announced… that the Public Service Commission comes under the Sunshine Law…. But she [Paula] saw extreme coziness between the commission and you could say the utility leaders and that was a fact. So that made big news. Big news. Bold. Because here’s a little female David going up against Goliath. Because these other two commissioners always voted the same and she voted against large rate increases and made a big name, big name for herself. Became statewide popular, not just Maitland. Boom for Paula! And it was incredible….

Voting Against the Utility Rate Increase

Now let me tell you a little thing that happened. She saw these votes and she knew the corruption and they were approving too much money. And they could say, we need a 200 million dollar rate increase; I’m talking about the utility. And they’d have people assigned to influence the commissioners because that’s all you had to do – sell two out of the three and then you’ve got it. So Paula went… she went to the head of the Florida Supreme Court, a respected jurist, and she told him what the problem is, “What can I do about it?” And he said, “Well, you vote your way. Let’s say they’re asking $250 million dollars, you think they deserve $150, whatever it is. Vote for a $150 million dollars, but you write why. Write why and you turn that in and we the court will have to hear it. The Supreme Court because here’s a body representing people of the state. Does that make sense to you? Yes, you write it up and sign it. Sign how much you approve and why. And we the state Supreme Court will hear it.” Wow!

Utility Rebate for Customers

So that happened and she got two or three, I forgot which rates for those particular ones that she wrote up. And so, there were rebates sent from Florida Power and Light or whoever it is and that user represented. Let’s say, she got a rebate of 50 million dollars, I don’t have those figures, they’re available, but that household would get it’s share – a rebate. Now that’s no small thing…

Visiting Genean McKinnon in Washington

One day she was in Washington, our daughter Genean McKinnon… she lived in Washington because she worked with Skip as a legislative aide. Well, I was up there with Paula up there in Jeanne’s house. Well, one day there was a knock on the door and Genean goes to the door and opens the door. It’s the guy named Dick Morris. And there’s an open seat at that time. The campaign is going to be coming and there’s a seat open at that time for the U.S. Senate. And Dick Morris is a pollster; he’s brilliant. So he’s looking for a client to run their campaign and he says to Genean, “Is Paula Hawkins here? Well, can I see her?” So, he comes in and he knew the polling. She was sky high in the polls because of what she had done. And people say, here’s a dynamite for the people person. 

Dick Morris

So he says, “I’m Dick Morris and you need to run for the U.S. Senate and I will run your campaign.” And I’m there also. And Paula and I both say, “We don’t have the money.” And he says, “You will win. I’ve seen the polls, they’re this high.” And we don’t have the money to run statewide for the U.S. Senate. I think there were television communities if you will. You have to be on the air in Jacksonville and you have to be on the air with ads, in Pensacola, Miami, and Tampa, you know, throughout the state. And we certainly, I didn’t have that kind of money. He said, “Don’t worry about that. You will win. I’ve seen the polls.”

Lou Frey

Well, we already had several Republicans running and I’m going to just whisper in your ear one of them was Lou Frey…. He’d been a ten year congressman from Central Florida, very talented, formidable and he had already signed up to run for that Senate seat, unknown to Paula and me. When we learned, we said, “She can’t do it.” I think there were four people were out there campaigning. And Dick Morris said, “Don’t worry about that. I’ve seen the statewide polls you will win. Run.”

Paula Hawkins, center, with her husband Gene and family at a Pensacola, Florida campaign event, November 3, 1980.

Pictured from left to right are: Genean and Joel McKinnon, Gene and Paula Hawkins, and Kevin and Jean Hawkins.

LISTEN Part V (19:02)


Bill Brock

The leader of the U.S. Senate was a fellow by the name of Bill Brock. He was the chairman of the Republican Party and he knew Paula because Paula worked in the party as Precinct Committee Woman. He knew what she could do and whatever… He had known Paula because of the party work and so he got on the phone and said, “Paula, you got to run. We need a woman in the Senate.” I’m hearing this and I said, “Tell him let’s run his wife.” 

Paula Hawkins Wins the Primary by a Wide Margin

Well anyway, it was kind of amazing. Paula had attained nationwide status among Republicans because of the Public Service Commission and, you know, whatever. So, Dick Morris he knew that he would get money if she won from the U.S. Republican Party. .. So long story short, she did. I’m just going to tell you, these other fellas, including Lou Frey, have been running for, I’d say like three months. And so Paula would be coming in three months late and so forth. Dick Morris kept saying, “Don’t worry, I know what the polls are.” And so, the way the Florida law was, you had to win if there were several people in that primary. You had to win 51% of the vote to say I’m in. Well, the election, out of four or five people, she carried I want to say like 48 % and then Lou Frey was next. Let’s say that he carried 31%. So the party thought, now I hate to say this because we like Lou Fry, but if you carry 48% you’re inevitably going to win in the runoff. But he felt he could beat them even in the runoff. But she won clearly by a wide margin.

Political Debate at Rollins College

So now she’s got to run in the general election against the Democrat… But anyway, Dick Morris says, “You know we’ll win.” But it was a tight race, very tight…. And there was a debate, a Public Service Debate, meaning she didn’t have to pay for it. That gave her exposure. The debate was held at Rollins. And Dick Morris kind of gave her some tips about how to handle yourself in a debate and it was a tough debate. And Paula won the debate and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980. It was the same year Ronald Reagan was elected….

Paula Hawkins Wins the U.S. Senate

And now, now the nation, “The Washington Post” ran an article – she really broke the ceiling. Because honestly, here’s a woman elected to the U.S… Senate and “The Washington Post” had a two to three page article even though they’re Democrat… There was one woman senator, Nancy Kassenbaum, and she had won. But her father was governor and very, you talk about coattails, from Kansas… and Kansas is a Republican state…. But the line written was that Paula Hawkins won the U.S. Senate without having the benefit of any famous person, if you will. That’s kind of how I came in because her husband was, had never been anything politically and so forth. So I became now a little bit of an enigma. I began to get a little space. But anyway, the word that went around, the first senator elected to the U.S. Senate, female senator, on her own….

United States Senator Paula Hawkins 

The Missing Children’s Bill

But she had ideas of what she wanted to do. And, at that time, you know, John Walsh, his son had just gone missing in a mall down in Hollywood. And Adam Walsh became very famous and others had gone missing. It was coming to be a factor. Kids would be picked up on the street… So Paula had thought about legislation… it was called the Missing Children Bill; had to be approved in the Senate and then the House. But anyway, she was in the Senate so the bill had to come first in the Senate. She wrote it and she and her aid, who lives in Jacksonville now, they basically wrote the legislation and what it called for. And now, Paula is taking this to other senators saying, “Would you cosponsor? Would you give me your vote?” and so forth.

Senator Paula Hawkins, center, and President Ronald Reagan signing the Missing Children’s Act into law on October 12, 1982.

The Missing Children’s Center

It was tough because the FBI people didn’t think the missing children – they were more concerned about drugs and, you know, really high level things. Paula had hearings. And it came up in the hearing, someone said from the FBI, we have to find million dollar resources… And so Paula said, “If a racehorse is worth millions of dollars, how much is a child worth?” And she was dynamic. She had the hearing and the FBI was opposed and they got a lot of senators to agree not to vote for it. But anyway, Paula persisted and persisted and she finally got the bill passed. And it’s in Alexandria, Virginia – the Missing Children’s Center. And Paula has been recognized again. And later she passed the Missing Children or Abused Children has been added. How many children they’ve found… 

Senator Paula Hawkins’ Idea for Missing Children Legislation builds on local policing…

We were driving from Maitland to Winter Park. I don’t know if you know where that turn off is if you’re coming 17-92 there’s a little turnoff to go to Winter Park. Anyway, I had not – you know, how you put a little tag on annually on your car… well I hadn’t put mine on. … So here’s where she gets the idea. So the police car blew a whistle, stopped me, I pulled over… Paula’s listening and she sees this guy. He had called ahead on his computer… Paula’s watching him on the computer. Her eyes got that big. Wow! Wow! It doesn’t matter how that came out, but that’s when she got the idea about missing children legislation. It called for every county police people, city police, take all elements of policing if you will. The bill called for it. If a child goes missing, get his name and all the details when and where it happened and get on the Internet and let it be known widely… And that’s where, if you ever should go to – it’s just outside of DC headquarters…. They’ve got a person that can do a sketch, send that out. You know that center – every state, every county, it’s phenomenal what the bill called for….

LISTEN Part VI (21:34)


Legislation by Senator Paula Hawkins

The amount of legislation she ended up in passing.


She became fascinated in the drug problem. And she said, “There’s got to be a way to fight the production and sourcing of drugs that come into this country.” So she wrote an amendment to the foreign aid package… and she got an amendment passed. It’s called the Paula Hawkins Amendment. And the amendment says that any country producing drugs that get into this country and whatever, unless they have a program to diminish the quantity, their foreign aid can be cut.

The Paula Hawkins Amendment Abroad

So she got that passed and she says,”I’m going to Bolivia, I’m going to the producing countries.” And she therefore got in Spanish, this amendment, what the law is in this country. And I went with her, John Mica, too, he was her aide by this time. And I remember going to Bolivia… and here’s this little housewife going in there, had an appointment with the commissioners. And she sits with them – hands off in Spanish her amendment – and said, “We need your cooperation….” But anyway, she sits with these legislative leaders and she says, “I need your support because the cocaine is coming into our country and doing great harm…” Well, long story short, they gave the excuse of the coca… But then she went to Columbia and I went with her and long story short wherever she went to, Pakistan, that’s where the poppies come and that’s where the heroin comes and I went with her and she did the same thing there. But anyway, so her battle, she had a battle for missing children, she had a battle for drugs, and others…   

United States Senator Paula Hawkins delivering the principal address at the commissioning ceremony of the nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine USS Florida (SSBN-728) June 18, 1983.

How did you navigate your role?

They had a Senate Wives Club. So they said to me, “Gene, you’ve got to join the Senate Wives club.” I said, “I”m not a Senate wife.” But they kept prodding me. I’m talking about the wives. And I went one time. I didn’t have a purse. But they all welcomed me because I was novel. And they changed the name to the Senate Spouse’s Club. You probably know that. And they treated me good.

The best example of the treatment I got was when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated where they wanted to give the special seat for the inauguration. So they had me sit between Elizabeth Taylor… wife of the Virginia senator. So the wives at the inauguration all had special seats up close. So they arranged for me to sit between Elizabeth Taylor and Nancy Thurmond, who had been Miss South Carolina. So I sat between them and was right there. The world doesn’t need to know that, but that is a true story. That’s a great seat. So, I got some benefits… I traveled with her and I made some novel things just being, you know my presence at a lot of these things boosted her somehow. Because here is I carrying her bag. But she was the voice and the doer…   

She has an honorary degree from Rollins and I think four or five from universities around the country… I went with her to Utah state, that’s in Logan. And she received an honorary degree there and others…. 

I was a little bit helpful getting her elected because in every campaign I did have an involvement, but small. You can’t imagine me going into a mall with a microphone saying, “My wife is running for the Public Service Commission.” It had to be Paula with those beautiful brown eyes and that presence…

LISTEN Part VII (2:54)


Paula loved the founders of this great nation and knew much concerning them and that’s why she had involvement. She was a true patriot. And I feel that I share her appreciation of this great country equally. And we are at a critical time, and my prayer is that this nation will forever be strong and a great example to all nations of the world.

Interview:  Gene Hawkins

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date:  May 15, 2017

PlaceVilla Serena, the Hawkins family home in Winter Park.

Photos courtesy of the Hawkins Family Archives.

Back to top
TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins with President Ronald Reagan

Senator Paula Hawkins and her husband Gene, pictured with their family and President Ronald Reagan. Pictured from left to right: Senator Paula Hawkins,...

1980 Senate Primary Results with Paula Hawkins

United States Senator Paula Hawkins became the first woman elected to the United States Senate based on her own attributes and the...

Congressional Accomplishments of United States Senator Paula Hawkins

In 1980, Paula Hawkins became the first woman elected to the United States Senate based on her own attributes and the first...

U. S. Senator Paula Hawkins at the Commissioning of USS Florida

United States Senator Paula Hawkins delivering the principal address at the commissioning ceremony of the nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine ...

Post Office for United States Senator Paula Hawkins

IN 2010, THE U.S.. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES APPROVED A RESOLUTION designating a post office in Maitland, Florida, as the "Paula Hawkins Post...

United States Senator Paula Hawkins, 1980

;United States Senator Paula Hawkins became the first woman elected to the United States Senate based on her own attributes and the...

Senator Paula Hawkins and President Ronald Reagan signing the Missing Children's Act

President Ronald Reagan signed the Missing Children's Act into law on October 12, 1982. Listen as Gene Hawkins describes the landmark work of...

Paula Hawkins Campaigning for the United States Senate

Paula Hawkins, center, with her husband Gene and family at a Pensacola, Florida campaign event, November 3, 1980. Pictured from left to...

Gene and Paula Hawkins on their Wedding Day

Gene and Paula Hawkins wedded on September 5, 1947 in Logan, Utah. World War II veteran Gene Hawkins describes the source of the...

The Hawkins Family at their Central Florida home, circa 1958

So they would meet and Paula was basically the leader and they all felt the same way and so they recruited. Paula...

There are currently no video related to this memory.
Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part I

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part II

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part III

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part IV

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part V

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part VI

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

Oral History Interview with Gene Hawkins, Part VII

Oral history interview with World War II Veteran Gene Hawkins at Villa Serena, May 15, 2017.

There are currently no links related to this memory.
There are currently no documents related to this memory.

Leave a Comment