Remembering Ed Wilson

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87 responses to “Guestbook”

  1. Jean Cooper

    I am grateful that I had the privilege to know Ed and Emily,

  2. Marcia Pregnall Farrar ‘74, PA ‘75, P ‘07

    O here’s to Ed Wilson
    A glass of the finest
    Red ruddy Rhenish filled up to the brim!

  3. Craig Taylor, BA ’98, JD ’01

    I never took one of Dr. Wilson’s legendary classes, or maintained the long and steady friendship with him that so many are now fondly remembering. But I was randomly assigned to his group of undergraduate advisees as a freshman in 1994. I had no idea who he was. I found my way to his beautiful, spacious, book-lined office in ZSR. It was probably the first faculty office I ever visited, so I guess I thought they were all like that. We had a wonderful chat, he gave me great advice, and I left. It was only a couple days later that I realized my advisor was a Wake Forest legend, and that I had walked right under his portrait into the Wilson Wing to meet with him. He was humble, kind, helpful, generous, and giving, even (and especially) to the clueless frosh who had no idea what we were getting into. I was lucky to have known him, even briefly, and when I think of Wake Forest, I think of Ed.

  4. Anne Calkins Grady, Class of ’79

    Apologies in advance for this remembrance. I may regret it later and Ed Wilson certainly deserves better. But this is what I have tonight.

    There I was, in 1978 and 1979, immersed in an Economics major and taking the occasional accounting and finance class to prepare myself for a future of fiscal responsibility. But I could not leave wake Forest University — oh no, I could NOT depart those hallowed halls — without rewinding my betrayal of Literature by wedging in two semesters of Professor Ed Wilson’s Romantic Poets classes. Because he was a legend, very human yet almost a mystic; his classes revered as among the best the university offered; his tutelage an experience of leveling up in the most amazing, inviting way. Where had this experience of densely hypnotic instruction been all my life? This must be what the Ivy League is like, I thought. And still think.

    I understood that the opportunity to learn from a genius is the essence of a Wake Forest education: to brush greatness and expand your intellectual horizons and just blow open your thinking in a way that informs and inspires your life for decades hence. This humble, brilliant, engaging man warmly invited us to transcend the classroom and “modern” life, transporting us to another time and literary movement with the most complete, erudite, gossamer, hearty, insider course on these revolutionary poets. He achieved nothing less than time travel and reality suspension in his classroom.

    I still feel myself the wedding guest dragged into the vortex of a possessed mariner’s urgent testimony, and learning to process conflict, disappointment, fear, the wabi sabi of life by praying, unaware and from my deepest connected soul, a blessing on all happy living things. That’s the essence of grace, kiddos. That grace inside you? Uncork it, because you and the world are going to need it.

    Studying for RP exams was frustrating. I wanted to remember every word Ed Wilson had said in his lectures. This master storyteller did not deal in talking points, he wove complex narrative lessons. My notes beguiled and marinated me in a heady space of emotion and almost mystical perceptions. The goal wasn’t regurgitation, the challenge was alchemy: how to transform his thoughts to my understandings and, lacking command of the language required, subdue this magic to words in a blue book. All while the clock was ticking in an open-window classroom on a high floor of Tribble Hall on a spring afternoon. Mark patience with undergraduate scribblings among the virtues Ed Wilson mastered.

    At the feet of this sensei, I absorbed lessons that inform my thinking and emotional interpretation of the world and how/if to apply ideas about what is eternal to what we’re living with this afternoon. “Ode on Melancholy” is an entry in my cell phone Contacts because you never know when you’ll want to spend some time with John Keats. Or feel compelled to share his work with someone needing an encounter with the duality of bursting Joy’s grape against a palate fine.

    My Sophon experience with Ed Wilson was limited to this one aspect of his immense, multi-faceted talent. He will live on and on in the memories of the lives he touched, and the lives to whom we pass that touch. Thank you, Wake Forest, for your role in shaping Ed Wilson so that he could enrich my life and bless me into partial awareness.

  5. bill thomas Jeffries

    Ed Wilson has always represented for me what I thought Wake Forest Community provided. He was there when I enrolled and became a student and was the speaker when we had our 50th reunion.
    He was a class act. I have his book of Eulogies about various faculty and it is one that I read on occasions as I found his reflections helped me to have a deeper appreciation for each deceased faculty member. The tradition that has gotten me into the most trouble was the one where we were encouraged to greet each other even strangers on the campus. Speaking to folks that you don’t know got me in big trouble when I lived for a time in New York City. I was told by a neighbor smiling and speaking to folks on the street is not a good idea. Unless you have been formally introduced, they may take offense and even attack you. What I thought!!! I am from WF and we lived by a different ethic. His smile and genuine warmth for each student was contagious. Hope WF never loses his ethics! We were blessed to have him as part of our lives.

  6. Cynthia Newton Chadwick

    I graduated in 1973 from Wake Forest. My favorite class was Ed Wilson’s Romantic Poets. He was so in awe of the timeless beauty of the poets’ words, he captivated the class. He shared that love with us. And we never doubted that we were in the presence of a truly good person.

    In my New Testament Religion class, I learned that the traditional Christmas message “Peace on Earth, good will to men” was mistranslated. It should be “Peace on Earth to men of good will.” If ever there was a man of good will, it was Ed Wilson.


    I was always amazed at Dr Ed’s ability to remember my name, regardless of the number of years that had passed since we had seen each other. His sincere interest in how I was and what I had done over the years was what made him so special to me. We were KE fraternity brothers, although some years apart. As our faculty advisor, he had his work cut out for him. Nevertheless, he had a positive influence on all of us.
    I will always remember Dr. Ed and love him as the gentlest and kind man.

  8. Kitty Kesler BA ’68

    Sitting in Dr. Wilson’s class transported me to the English countryside. He shared his love of the Romantic poets in a way that made me too fall in love with them. What a special person and special professor he was!

  9. Laura Raines

    I can’t ever think about Wake Forest without thinking about Ed Wilson. I took at least three of his classes and loved his teaching, his warmth and his friendship to students. I’m so grateful to have known him and learned from him.

  10. Marty Province – ’78; Faculty ’82-’94

    Another memory – Provost Wilson appeared in a “James Bond” movie (“The Only Way to Die”) produced by Jay Lawson (Music Dept. Technical staff), in which he was killed by the villain. During the on-campus screening, at that moment in the film, an almost unison cry of, “NOOOOOO!!!!” went up from the audience.

  11. John Seibert (‘84, MBA ‘87)

    My last undergraduate class at Wake Forest was spent looking out at a beautiful Spring day while Provost Wilson read Fern Hill. It remains one of my most powerful and enjoyable memories that is always welcome.

    Whenever I read a poem that speaks to me, whether it be Neruda, Frost, or Billy Collins, I am grateful, and sometimes wonder if he liked it too. After all, he imparted the love of words to me.

  12. Jennifer Dework Katz ’93

    Wake Forest has truly lost a legend with the passing of Dr. Wilson. He inspired so many students throughout the years and will always live in our hearts. I am honored to have taken one of his Romantic poets classes and still keep the volumes on my bookshelf. If I read a poem, it is Dr. Wilson’s voice that I hear in my mind. I offer deepest sympathies to Dr. Wilson’s family at this time.

  13. Cheryl Van Riper Walker

    Like so many, I have been looking back at handwritten notes from Ed Wilson, rereading stories written about him over the years and thinking about all the conversations we’ve had since I was a student sitting in his poetry classes on the second floor of Tribble Hall. I had the privilege of writing the news release announcing the new wing of the ZSR Library would be named in his honor and am so grateful he was an essential part of the Wake Forest community for more than 30 years after delivering his famous “To Honor the Legacy” speech that day.

    He was such a forward thinker throughout his career, but he is perhaps best known for remembering – remembering history, remembering places, remembering poems and books and movies. Most importantly, he remembered people. He made me and everyone he met feel special and he inspired us all to become better human beings.

  14. Brenda (Cartwright ’62) Johnson

    I can only affirm all these well-worded tributes, which in themselves are a tribute to Dr. Wilson’s inspiration. However I can add a personal example in support of all others have said. One of my greatest regrets was being unable to join one of the trips he led to Europe, but they occurred at graduation time and as principal of Camp Lejeune High School I could not go. Another Wake alum, Larry McRacken, let him know about that when I retired. He sent a beautifully inscribed book to be presented as a surprise at my retirement. I would love to know how many educators were so fortunate as to have Dr. Wilson as a model?!

  15. Evelyn West Ormond

    Like so many alumni, I loved Ed and visited with him many times over the years. He and my dad had been friends on the old Wake Forest campus, so becoming friends with Ed myself was enhanced and enriched in that way. As my graduation time approached, Ed suggested that I compete to be one of three senior speakers at the graduation convocation, despite the fact that I had not been involved in debate or speech while an undergraduate. That was stunning, to say the least — but because he asked I agreed to pitch a speech to the committee at Dr. Scales’ house. Turns out I did have a speech in me and, while Ed was shaking my hand on the dais as that year’s winner of the A.D. Ward medal, he said to me, “I’ve been thinking… I believe your dad won this medal, too. Ask him when you get home.” He was right, and sharing that history was always special to Dad and me.

    Dad was a couple years younger than Ed — he died at age 99 ten months ago. For me going forward, grieving includes both of them and while that doubles the ache, it also multiplies the gratitude I feel for having Ed Wilson as well as J.A. West forever in my life.

  16. Jen Averill

    Dr. Wilson was the most loving, gentle spirited human being that has graced my time here at Wake Forest. His impact upon this Institution, this community and those he served is a legacy that we now must show our gratitude and continue in his honor.

  17. Mike Queen

    Seeing Ed Wilson at trustee meetings, and other Wake Forest gatherings with his smiling countenance always gave me the sense that everything was going to be all right, no matter what was going on. And on a personal note, Ed never once saw me that he did not inquire as to how my son, the coach and Class of ‘94 grad, was doing. He patiently listened as I proudly told him, season after season. Ed Wilson’s pure goodness is seldom matched. God bless you, Mr. Wake Forest.

  18. Niki Craig

    Besides being an inspirational professor who introduced me to the Romantic poets, Provost Wilson was a kind and generous friend. Here are a few memories I have of him after my college years.

    • When I was trying to decide on graduate programs, I called him and asked his advice. He steered me in the right direction.
    • When my husband, Kenny Craig, was being ordained, he came to his church and participated in his ordination service.
    • Decades later, he took us out to lunch and showed us his wonderful office in the library. He was so gracious and hospitable. We were so touched that he took time to visit two of his former students.
    • So in 2017 when I had friends visiting from Dijon where I had spent a semester studying, I knew that I could knock on the door of his office so I could introduce them to Mr. Wake Forest. What a special treat to introduce my best friend from 1979 to my favorite professor from 1980!

    I cherish these memories of Provost Wilson. I will miss him.

  19. Clint McCown

    The path I have followed in life for the past 54 years — as a teacher and writer — can be traced back directly to the kindness and support extended to me by Dr. Wilson and Emily Wilson. I have loved them as family. Of course he was a fantastic lecturer, but beyond that, he had the rare ability to be a careful listener, someone who made you feel both seen and heard, even in the most causal of conversations. In Dr. Wilson’s world view, everyone mattered. The example he set was a gift to us all.

  20. Gail Segal, B.A. 1974

    As an undergraduate at Wake, I muscled my way into Ed Wilson’s “Blake, Yeats, and Thomas” class as a Sophomore. English was not my intended major, but poetry had been for me, since my earliest years of reading, a plumb line to what mattered most. Listening to Dr. Wilson, who I came to call “Ed,” who graced my life with 50 years of friendship, reciting “Tyger, Tyger burning bright,” or the beautiful last stanza of “I See Phantoms” by Yeats (which, inspired by him, I also committed to memory),

    “I turn away and shut the door, and on the stair
    Wonder how many times I could have proved my worth
    In something that all others understand or share;
    But O! ambitious heart, had such a proof drawn forth
    A company of friends, a conscience set at ease,
    it had but made us pine the more. The abstract joy,
    The half-read wisdom of daemonic images,
    suffice the ageing man as once the growing boy.”

    Or finally, not the expected “Do not go gentle into that good night,” from someone who would live over a century, but the poem from Dylan Thomas that starts, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” And this is how I think of Ed now, as a force, driving, and for many years, and so many of us, so much flowering.
    I loved him so. I love him still.

  21. Anna Claire Straughan McKay

    I graduated in ’92, but just a couple of weeks ago I submitted a proposal for a travel grant for educators in which I spoke of Dr. Wilson by name. I proposed being able to end my travels with a stop in England’s Lake District, a place Dr. Wilson brought to life for hundreds and hundreds of us in Tribble Hall over the years. Not only did he incite in me a love of poetry, but he also inspired me to teach and share the beauty and cadence of language with others.

    Thank you, Dr. Wilson. Every time I see daffodils “nodding their heads in a sprightly dance”, I’ll hear your voice.

  22. Nathan and Julie Hatch

    Ed Wilson regularly described Wake Forest as a place of hospitality, a community in which anyone of good will could fine acceptance, affirmation, and intellectual engagement. We felt that kind of embrace from Ed, and many others, when we came to Wake Forest and I will always believe that quality lies at the heart of a Wake Forest education.

    Ed embodied the conviction that intellectual rigor should be linked to deep personal relationships. He knew how to see someone deeply and make them feel seen. That humane presence stands as a beacon for us all. As we mourn his passing, may we redouble our own efforts to know each other deeply, to engage those with whom we disagree, and to extend a welcoming hand to all.

  23. Bill Wellman ’86

    Sorry to hear of Dr. Wilson’s passing. He was Mr. Wake Forest. When I arrived at Wake, I was a dumb 18-year-old kid. I remember Ed giving us a talk at Wait Chapel on our very first day. Somehow, I managed to graduate with the help of many great people like Ed and had a good career and life. I’m happy to say that I just retired and purchased a nice home in Winston Salem and that’s all because of the time I spent at Wake. Getting accepted there was the luckiest break I ever had. Thank you, Ed, and thanks to all your colleagues who helped me to grow up.

    I’ll be walking the campus a lot in the coming years and I’m looking forward very much to see Ed’s name prominently featured again.

  24. Devra Lynn Rafeld

    What a blessing to know Dr. Ed Wilson and his lovely wife Emily. The time I spent with them has always been one of my fondest Wake Forest memories. Ed’s Blake, Yeats, and Thomas class was like being in a beautiful dream. When he read poetry aloud to the class, we all were mesmerized and transported. I will keep Ed’s amazing spirit in my heart always. Much love to the Wilson family from an inspired student.

  25. John Sykes, ’75

    I am one of countless recipients of Ed Wilson’s benefactions. He supported me when I was a student at Wake Forest, remembered me when I returned to teach, and visited me when I moved away. Of greater meaning than anything he gave me directly, however, was what he exemplified: the teacher-scholar through whom the muses still sang. Living poetry flowed through him, though it was not his own.

    He was learned, humane, and inspirational in a way that was perfectly at home with his native humility. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

  26. Mary Kate Hurley (’04)

    Like many alumni of Wake Forest, and particularly the English department, I’m mourning the loss of Dr. Wilson. Although mourning isn’t really the right word: it’s more a wistful feeling, mixed with the certain knowledge that a part of my life that was central to my trajectory is now gone, forever. This post is adapted from something I wrote on Facebook a few days ago.

    Dr. Wilson taught generations of Wake Forest English students, but by the time I arrived in 2000, he had already retired. Our paths crossed when, as I prepared for the GRE Subject test, Emily Brewer encouraged me to reach out to him for advice about how to prepare those parts of British Literature I had, until that moment, assiduously avoided. What transpired was better than advice – rather, it was a semester of biweekly meetings where we would talk about the Romantics and their poetry. No credit for either of us, except the credit of time well spent. I don’t remember my test score anymore, but I remember his voice as he read these poems aloud. And more than that, I remember the time he spent on a student who – at that point – was still only an enthusiastic mix of energy, hope, and some small flame of potential. He was one of many at Wake who helped me guard and grow that flame, turning potential into reality as I moved to graduate school and my Ph.D. at Columbia, then on to a position and tenure in English at Ohio University.

    In Ed Wilson – Mr. Wake Forest – I see the best of what higher education can be. I see a teacher who, a decade after retirement, still took the time to help a young student grow. I see an administrator who found a way to fund medieval studies – funding that sent me to Kalamazoo, helped me run my first conference as an undergraduate, and that brought speakers to campus that illuminated my intellectual world. I see someone who cared, deeply, about place and how it shapes us. Someone who lived the phrase that, for me and many, is so much more than marketing: pro humanitate.

    I don’t know when I’ll next make it to Wake’s campus. But I do know that some indelible piece of his spirit will be there, reminding me why I took this academic journey. Sometimes my students and colleagues wonder why I read aloud endlessly, or take on so many extra students for independent studies, or pursue administrative work. I’m trying to live up to the example he set. It’s a bar I’ll never reach, but it’s the very best model I know.

    Rest in peace, Dr. Wilson. Thank you, truly, for everything.

  27. Linda Hollingsworth Simms

    As a faculty child I knew Dr. Wilson. As I grew up my family interacted with him, and he spoke at our Dad’s funeral service. We all appreciated him a great deal. He gave copies of his book “Songs of Wake Forest,” to my sister and me. Our Dad was included in his book. He was a truly special man, and WFU will miss him.

  28. Kenneth A Zick

    In 1992 Ed delivered the Founders Day Address, “To Honor the Legacy”. It was a farewell address, marking his retirement as University Provost. For me, the final words of his address summed up his character and his enduring contributions to the wellspring of Wake Forest life. Ed’s leadership sprung from his belief in the inherent goodness of human beings. For him the definition of education was friends seeking happiness together. And happiness was to be found in the pursuit of all that was good, true, and beautiful in life. In his grace-filled way Ed made every person whom he encountered feel as if their life story was the most important aspect of their conversation. I never encountered a student who met with Ed who did not come away knowing something significant about themselves and their endeavors. He was a poet of the soul, who could quickly grasp where you were wandering. His impact will be found in the thousands of encounters with people who left a conversation with a vision of how they could become better human beings. Each became a friend from the moment they met, for there were only friends in Ed’s world. No words capture Ed’s ineffable spirit more than the closing lines of his 1992 address when he said: “In the last chapters of E. B. White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, the spider Charlotte, having spun her last web, says to her friend Wilbur the pig, Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur – this lovely world, these precious days… And Charlotte continues: You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. I would conclude this morning by saying, with Charlotte, to all of you: my family, my colleagues, my students: You have been my friend[s]. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you.” I was deeply privileged to know Ed as a mentor and dear friend. And especially because I always knew that he wove his web for me. He was and continues to be a precious gift to us. My heart goes out to Ed’s stalwart and beloved wife, Emily, and the entire Wilson family.
    Kenneth A. Zick

  29. David M Memory, BA, 1965

    I’m one of the fortunate Wake Forest graduates to have been enriched by Ed Wilson’s Romantic Poets course. Nevertheless, I’ll not attempt to add to the volume or impact of the admiring comments previously posted regarding Dr. Wilson’s consummate ability to engender appreciation for British Romantic poetry in his students. Moreover, I was rewarded by perhaps more occasions than I deserved to talk one-on-one with him during the years since that first student experience in 1964. But I’ll not venture to contribute a significant addition to the grateful reflections already shared concerning Dr. Wilson’s unfailing tendency to make conversation partners feel they had his undivided attention and enjoyed his unalloyed respect.
    I will, though, offer a comment about what I repeatedly felt were Dr. Wilson’s remarkable ability and tendency to make even brief public statements examples of eloquent use of the English language that he so obviously loved and models of measured but engrossing delivery of beautifully articulated thoughts. After listening to those statements and observing Dr. Wilson’s warm facial expressions during his portion of such public events, I always told myself, “You have again been blessed by witnessing the inspiring verbal presence of an extraordinary human being.”

  30. Jane Thompson Rae

    This professor is the reason I became an English teacher. We all have teachers who made a difference in our lives, and he was the single most influential person in my studies at Wake Forest University. Even now I have such wonderful memories of our office chats and felt grateful to be an English major under his tutelage. Because of his teaching style I will forever love all of the British authors, particularly the Romantic poets. He never knew it, but I implemented that style in my classes, illuminating the lives of authors before students read their works.
    It is absolutely a blessing that he lived to be 101 touching so many lives. What a wonderful human being.
    Jane Thompson Rae (’75)

  31. Ernest Lewis, Jr. ’09, MSM ’11

    I remember fondly the kindness the legendary “Eds” (Drs. Wilson and Christman) showed me as a wide-eyed, emotionally overwhelmed freshmen. Dr. Wilson with a quick poem or a story about his hopes and dreams for Wake Forest and how he saw each student as part of the tapestry that is Wake Forest. He was a man of his time, out of his time. He led with kindness and genuine inquisitiveness and modeled it for all of us. May he walk with the ancients!! May we continue to build a Wake Forest that amplifies Ed’s life and legacy.

  32. April Arden Hess

    I have been extremely sad about the passing of Dr. Wilson. I was so blessed to take both British Romantic Poets and Blake, Yeats, and Thomas. He never found it odd that an accounting major wanted to take his classes, and he inspired me as he did so many others. His love of people, Wake Forest, and poetry touched me deeply and I will never forget him.

  33. Paul Turner ’64

    During my Wake years (1960-64) Dr. Wilson was Dean of the College. Beyond his academic brilliance, the kind, generous way he conducted himself and treated everyone made all of us proud to be a Wake Forest student and later a Wake Forest graduate. Arguably, it’s a disservice to identify him simply as the finest representative our school has ever had. For me, and not to diminish other Wake Forest people in any way, he was Wake Forest. His remarkable life and devotion to our school challenge all of us to be the best we can be in our future service to others.

  34. John and Fran Moorhouse

    Few individuals are associated with an institution for over eighty years; fewer still contribute to shaping an institution as complex as a university. Ed Wilson accomplished both. As professor, dean, and provost, Dr. Wilson’s influence made Wake Forest a better and better institution of higher learning. And Ed did all this with charm and grace. He was, in a phrase, “Mr. Wake Forest”. He will be missed by many friends, family members, and colleagues.

  35. Kathy Bunn

    I was fortunate and was privileged to work with Dr. Wilson when he was the Advisor to the student athletes. At that time, I was the NCAA certifying officer in the Office of the Registrar and Dr. Wilson signed off on the certification forms each semester. He was a joy to work with! He was a gentleman and scholar. RIP Dr. Wilson. You will be missed.

  36. Charlie Crisp

    Any day that I saw Ed Wilson was a reminder of why every day is a great day to be a Deac! In addition to sharing a love of MSD, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that “Mr. Wake Forest” and I shared the same hometown (Eden). What a gift his unwavering presence was to the WF community. We were all very blessed to have crossed paths with Dr. Wilson.

  37. George L. Reasner BA, 1990

    Back in 2011, Dr. Mary M. Dalton asked me to help shoot a video [aka immortalize] Dr. Ed Wilson’s well-known and always timely speech “The Essence of Wake Forest.” We had to coach him on the ways & means of using a teleprompter, since the speech was more than 8 minutes long. Of course he was a great sport, and the 4 or 5 days we got to spend with him in our midst and on our film sets all day was a true joy.
    I believe he really did embody all of the elements that are Wake Forest to the core, and I was certainly better for having spent a small amount of time with him. And like he was known to do, a week or two after our shoot I received a lovely hand written letter from Ed, thanking me for my efforts and for being patient with him. Humble always, he will be missed around campus but certainly never forgotten. RIP Dr. Ed Wilson aka Mr. Wake Forest.