COLUMBIA — At the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre, Willy Wilson developed a specialty in the small, comedic roles common in Shakespeare, such as the porter in "Macbeth."
But one of his most memorable performances was as a gangster in "Kiss Me, Kate." He "stopped the show" with a song about how to impress girls by quoting Shakespeare, said Byron Scott, president of the theater's board of directors.
"He was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful character actor," Scott said. "He had a great comic sense."
David "Willy" Wilson of Columbia died Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, of lung cancer. He was 70.
Mr. Wilson was born July 6, 1943, in Aryshire, Scotland, to David and Mary Wilson.
He lived in Scotland until he was 21, when he left to become a teacher in East Africa. While teaching at a school in Uganda in 1969, Mr. Wilson met his wife, Vicky Riback. They were married April 8, 1972.
The couple moved to Columbia, Vicky Wilson's hometown, in 1975.
Wilson became involved with the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre in the 1970s and became a key member, friends said. In 2011, the theater recognized his contribution by creating a scholarship in his name.
Scott, who directed Wilson in about 10 plays during their 25-year friendship, praised Wilson's comedic abilities. Wilson also designed the sets for about a dozen of the theater's plays, Scott said — "some of the most elaborate, beautiful and complicated sets we've had."
Wilson had a talent for playing "irascible, middle-aged men," said Lee Wilkins, a former MU professor who knew him through the Maplewood Barn.
"If you did theater in Columbia, you knew Willy and admired him," Wilkins said. "He didn't seek the limelight, but he was a talented person you could count on."
After a fire destroyed the theater in 2010, Wilson and his wife became co-chairs of a committee to raise money to build a new one.
"Willy had given his soul to Maplewood so many times that people had come to associate it with him," Scott said.
There were too many sides of Willy to capture him in one story, Vicky Wilson said.
Her husband, who is known to many for his love of Maplewood Barn, will be remembered for many other things, Vicky Wilson said, including his roles as an educator, coach, engineer, artist and musician.
He worked as a computer programmer in Columbia for almost 30 years before he decided to return to teaching late in his career. He taught math at Rock Bridge High School.
He was a soccer coach for more than 20 years and played the sport every week until well into his 60s, stopping only when he developed cancer five years ago. The first bout of cancer also forced him to retire from teaching.
He also was a pillar in the Columbia arts scene outside the Maplewood Barn and performed radio theater on KOPN.
This summer he developed lung cancer.
His son, David Wilson, remembered his father as someone who forced people to see things more clearly or through a different light.
He recalled a time his father spent hours laboring on a set at the Maplewood Barn, only to have the director tell him that the idea was probably impossible to execute and that he should probably scrap it.
"Nothing is impossible," David Wilson remembered his father saying. "Impossible just takes a wee bit longer."
Mr. Wilson is survived by his wife, Vicky Wilson; a son, David Wilson, of Columbia; a daughter, Hollye Seddon, and her husband, David, of Cumberland, Maine; a sister, Allison Naismith, of Edinburgh, Scotland; and two granddaughters, Audrey Seddon and Macuillian Seddon, both of Cumberland, Maine.
His parents died earlier.
A gathering in Mr. Wilson's memory will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Maplewood Barn, 3709 E. Nifong Blvd.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Willy Wilson Scholarship fund, which is awarded to a Columbia high school senior who plans to study theater in college. Contributions can be sent to Boone County National Bank c/o Maplewood Barn Community Theatre P.O. Box 1704.