H. Clyde Wilson Jr.

COLUMBIA — H. Clyde Wilson Jr. made it his life’s work to learn about people. He was a public servant and a dedicated professor in anthropology.

His wife, Betty Wilson, described him as a man who had the charm to maintain friendships with people of diverse backgrounds. He mentored countless students and community members in Columbia for 50 years in addition to serving as Columbia's mayor and a member of the City Council.

Dr. Wilson died at his home Tuesday, March 30, 2010, after a long illness. He was 83.

Born May 6, 1926, in Proctor, Texas, to Houston Clyde Wilson and Lena B. (Purvis) Wilson, Dr. Wilson grew up during the Depression with considerable odds against future success.

When he served in World War II after high school, the G.I. Bill made it possible for him to attend college, where he studied anthropology. After getting a master’s degree at Texas A&M University, he began his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan.

Betty Wilson said she met her future husband when they both worked in the psychiatric ward of a children’s hospital.

“I think the first thing I admired so much about him was the way he handled the children,” she said. “He was patient, yet he knew how to set limits.”

The Wilsons were married in August 1957 and moved to Dulce, N.M., in 1958 where Dr. Wilson nourished his interest in cultural evolution through research on the Jicarilla Apache Tribe.

He finished his doctorate in anthropology at UCLA in 1961.

That same year, he joined the faculty at MU and moved to Columbia with his wife and their two young children.

As a cultural anthropologist, Betty Wilson said, her husband was quite interested in the behavior of people in communities. He founded the anthropology department at MU in 1966 and later served in a number of leadership positions.

Columbia also provided a platform for his love of politics.

Through four terms on the City Council and one two-year term as mayor, Dr. Wilson helped develop the Katy Trail system, advocated for civil rights before it was popular to do so and recommended plans for land use and energy conservation.

Though his accomplishments were impressive, Betty Wilson said character and charm made him a role model for his five children and members of the community.

“He was very funny,” she said. “Though, he used to get irritated because sometimes his jokes were so subtle that we didn’t get them. He kind of looked at life sideways.”

Dr. Wilson could often be found in his chair, not reading or watching television.

When asked what he was doing, he would simply reply, “I’m thinking.”

Though he balanced a busy schedule, his wife said he actively participated in every aspect of child-rearing.

When his youngest son, Benjamin Wilson, had a paper route, his father helped him deliver on certain Tuesdays.

His four sons and one daughter now each live a minimum of 900 miles from Columbia, but Betty Wilson said her husband regularly had intellectual, spiritual and political conversations with his children.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better husband,” she said.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Wilson is survived by sons Thomas Wilson, David Wilson, James Wilson and Benjamin Wilson; a daughter, Anne Ferrell; a brother, Ray Wilson; and 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 11 at the Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

Memorial contributions can be made to the MU Department of Anthropology, 107 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, toward the establishment of a scholarship in honor of Dr. Wilson; to the Salvation Army, 1108 W Ash St, Columbia, MO 65203; or to Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, 804-C E. Broadway, Columbia, MO 65201.