Dr. Robert A. Wilson
December 30, 1927-November 7, 1999
Fr. Dale Matson
I have been reading a devotional this year called Voices Of The Saints: A Year Of Readings by Bert Ghezzi (2000). As I read it I am amazed at how well my mentor Dr. Bob Wilson would fit right in with so many of those blessed folks. I want to use him as an example of a Spirit filled, Christ like, complete man.
Bob became a Marine after high school graduation. While in the marines, he won the golden gloves heavyweight boxing title. After discharge he attended Fresno State University on a football scholarship. He met his wife Dede at Fresno State and they were married in 1952. He had them both kneel on the night of their wedding and dedicate their marriage to God. Together they raised six sons and one daughter.
Bob was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma about 1984. He wasn't given much chance for survival and even went to Lourdes seeking a cure. During this dark night of the soul Bob, already a deeply religious man, turned finally to Dede and said, “May God’s will be done.” Bob’s cancer went into remission and God gave him an additional 15 years of life.
He was a part of the Fresno Pacific University search committee that hired me to direct the School Psychology masters and credential program in 1992. Bob had retired from the Fresno Unified School District as the Director of Psychological Services. He was hired by the graduate school at Fresno Pacific to create the Special Education credential program and later created the School Psychology and School Counselor programs.
It is not possible to discuss Bob’s professional life without discussing his Christian life also. He was a deeply committed and spiritual Roman Catholic. He was a lector and Eucharistic minister at his church. He would pray with his advisees and offer supportive counsel along with academic guidance. He was voted counselor of the year by the San Joaquin Counselors Association and received the highest honor in California counseling, the H.B. McDaniel award. He was the first Roman Catholic (and a Veteran to boot) professor hired at Pacific, a Mennonite Brethren University (Pacifist). He won over the “Brethren” who previously had been unsure if Catholics were even Christians.
Bob rarely made it to meetings on time because someone would spot him headed to the administration building and have a pressing problem that needed attention. Bob would always make time for them. Bob had no malice toward anyone. He loved everyone and always attributed the best motives to the behavior of others. He had a pure heart and I never heard him say a negative thing about anyone. He brought out the absolute best in others. We simply called him, “Coach”. He was so skilled at leadership that even when you were given correction by Bob you would come away feeling good about yourself.
Bob and Dede lived a Spartan life in a simple house. He was continually giving away money to those in need. We were once at a stop light and he gave me a dollar to hand to a homeless man holding a sign at an intersection. I chided Bob that the man was probably running a scam. Bob simply looked at me and said, “ I've got it and he doesn't.” I never refused anyone after that.
When Bob retired from Fresno Pacific, we had a party in his honor and invited all the alumni we could still contact. There was an enormous response and attendance. For the first time Bob’s family was able to see all the people that they had shared their father with for so many years. Bob’s resume’ would have been dozens of pages of names of people that he had encouraged and helped over decades of service.
At Bob’s funeral I read the Old Testament lesson. One nephew told about Bob taking all the men Ling Cod fishing. Bob pushed the huge rubber raft into the surf and got wet to his waist. He was obviously cold the entire time out but just smiled at the opportunity to be with his sons and nephews. After the funeral, Dede said to me, “You know Dale he loved you.” I said, “Dede, Bob loved everyone.” She said, “Yes, but he loved you like a son.” That kind of love for seven years brought enormous healing to me. Soon thereafter, I sought Holy Orders and retired from Fresno Pacific too.
Bob was a real man. He was a gift from God to everyone who met him. I have never seen the tears of so many men (and women) as I saw at his funeral. We were happy for Bob but sad for ourselves. I look forward to seeing Bob again.