Clyde Wilson remembered with smiles and tears at Missouri Theatre

Sunday, April 11, 2010 | 9:30 p.m. CDT; updated 11:29 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 12, 2010
Don and Marie Scruggs attend a celebration of Clyde Wilson's life at the Missouri Theatre on Sunday. The Scruggs were long-time friends of Wilson.

* A previous version of this story misidentified Wilson's sign on his office door. It also misspelled former council member Bob Pugh's name and the name of the Griswold clan.

COLUMBIA — At Clyde Wilson’s memorial service on Sunday afternoon, his daughter, Anne, described her father’s study at the bottom of the stairs in his home in East Campus: A poster of Monet’s "Woman With Umbrella," an article about Tony La Russa, a Texas flag, a framed eulogy of Sen. Paul Wellstone and a quote from author Kurt Vonnegut.

His only daughter also said his nameplate from his office at MU hung on the door. It says, “H. Clyde Wilson — Chair*.”


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Adjacent to it was his nameplate from his 10 years on the Columbia City Council, including a two-year stint as mayor. Wilson told local newspapers several times that his job as a professor of anthropology always came first, before council work. Wilson died March 30 after a long illness.

Wilson’s friends, colleagues and five children — 17 speakers total — spoke to a three-quarters full Missouri Theatre about how the tall, lanky Texan had inspired them and served as a role model in their lives.

Seldom was a memory of Wilson shared without mention of Betty, his wife of 52 years.

“They were and are my mentors in parenting and politics,” Washington state Supreme Court Justice Rosselle Pekelis said of Betty and Clyde Wilson. “I was in awe of their four children in four years. Bath time was an assembly line with the two of them working together.”

All the speakers described Wilson as the best listener they knew. His colleague, Carol Ward, met Wilson when she was 26 years old and worked with him for 20 years.

“Clyde always treated me like I was as valuable as anyone else,” Ward said.

Wilson’s careful listening was, as his colleague Fred Katz experienced, a precursor to thoughtful, meaningful conversation.

“Clyde was the most passionate listener I’ve ever known,” Katz said. “Clyde contributed mightily to rehabilitating my sense of self-worth.”

Katz said he had lost that self-worth after he lost his family in the Holocaust.

Wilson had a passion for politics and social justice as well. He ran for Missouri’s 8th District in the Senate to share his ideas on peace and equal rights.

While young students used sometimes radical, rash ways to protest the Vietnam War, Rory Ellinger said Wilson used the law to be heard.

“Clyde showed you could use the system to speak out against the system,” Ellinger said.

Wilson's former council colleague, Bob Pugh*, said the addition of two new council wards in 1973 induced about 29 people to run for election. Wilson was the only incumbent re-elected that year.

His children, through tears and laughs, shared their relationship with their father. Family dinners were a requirement, and family vacations were memorable. 

His oldest son, Tom, called their family trips to Pennsylvania, Colorado and Maine "iconographic" and "the prototype for the National Lampoon's Griswold family*."

His son Jim and his wife read a poem, first in Spanish then in English, called "En Vida Hermano, En Vida" ("In Life Brother, In Life").

David Wilson said his dad told the best bedtime stories and taught them the names of the birds in the backyard. He spoke about how his father showed his love for his children by always waiting with a smile, a book in his lap, a pipe in his mouth and ready to listen.

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Michael Sleadd April 11, 2010 | 10:30 p.m.

What a great guy! We'll miss him. Very nice memorial.

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