Larry Wilson was a firefighter, a race car driver, a foster parent and a storyteller. Mr. Wilson, 82, died Sunday morning in his home after a very full life.
According to the people who knew him best, Mr. Wilson was a generous individual devoted to his family and friends. Capt. John Wilke, investigation division manager of the Boone County Fire Protection District and a friend, said Mr. Wilson’s values were admirable.
“(Mr. Wilson was) an individual whose moral compass always pointed due north,” Wilke said. “(He had) impeccable integrity and character.”
Mr. Wilson was born 1936 in Columbia and grew up in the city, eventually graduating from Hickman High School. His first job was at GTE Financial in Columbia as a line technician. He found his true calling, however, in 1968, when he joined the Central Missouri Radio Squad, which would become the Boone County Fire Protection District, as a firefighter.
During his time as a firefighter, Mr. Wilson rose in the fire service ranks, working in various departments. He started as a firefighter then became a fire lieutenant and, eventually, a station captain for the Fire District. He also taught firefighters how to handle liquid petroleum gas at the Fire District and through a class at the Fire and Rescue Training Institute through MU Extension.
In 2014, he was promoted to Battalion Chief of the Fire District’s Safety Division, according to Scott Olsen, current chief of the Fire District.“(Mr. Wilson) had a passion for fire service, and he took his role as an instructor with the liquid petroleum ... very serious,” Tim Bean, Missouri state fire marshal, said.
Bean co-taught fire safety classes with Mr. Wilson and said he was always amazed at Mr. Wilson’s ability to adapt to unpredictable situations and explain complex matters in simple ways. According to Bean, one of the best examples of this was when Mr. Wilson brought his entire class to a cow pasture to learn how to use liquid petroleum tanks. He improvised the location because no other large empty area was available.
“That was one of a kind; it had never been done that way,” Bean said. “They adapted and adjusted and just took what was available to them and made it work.”
Outside of firefighting, Mr. Wilson had a passion for dirt track racing. Mr. Wilson raced cars on dirt tracks around the state until he was forced to retire because of health issues.
Mr. Wilson’s firefighting colleagues knew how much racing meant to him and surprised him one day with a group trip down to the Lake Ozark Speedway in Eldon, Missouri.
“Just seeing his excitement and love for the event is something that will be forever etched in my memory of Larry,” Wilke said. “And we left very, very proud that we could share the experience with him.”
Remembering Mr. Wilson would be incomplete without also thinking of the devotion he had toward his family and friends, Bean said. Mr. Wilson dedicated time to his family, his church and the many foster children he and his wife took in over the years.
“They had a passion for kids,” Bean wrote in a text message. “Sometimes the local law enforcement would call them in the middle of the night to take care of a child.”
Wilke also saw Mr. Wilson as a selfless individual, calling him a “lighthouse of integrity” and a mentor.
“If respect and friendship were the metrics on which wealth was determined, then few if any others could ever reach his richness,” Wilke said.
After countless years of community involvement, Bean believes Mr. Wilson’s memory will live on.
“His fingerprints will be left on many of us across the state, not just around the Columbia area,” Bean said.
A service will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at Open Door Baptist Church, 4838 Meadow Lark Lane, followed immediately by a remembrance of Wilson’s life at Memorial Park Cemetery, 1217 Business Loop 70 W.