March 21, 2024

Dear faculty colleagues,

I’d like to use this month’s letter to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Ed Wilson – my friend, Provost Emeritus, Wake Forest’s first provost, and longtime English professor whom we lost last week at the age of 101.

Ed and I met during my on-campus interview in his office in the ZSR Library. I was nervous about meeting this preeminent teacher-scholar-administrator, who had helped transform Wake Forest into a renowned national university. But he was so warm and witty, and our exchange about our favorite historians and writers was so much fun, that I almost forgot why we were there. What I experienced that afternoon was by no means unique. Ed Wilson made everyone he ever met feel welcomed, and he invited everyone he ever met to engage with him in what it means to be human.

Since that interview a quarter of a century ago, we have talked about books, plays, poetry and all things Wake Forest. We have shared a special affection for Dr. James Barefield, retired Wake Forest Professor of History. We served together on the search committee that brought us former president Nathan Hatch. I walked beside him when he toured the WWII monument in Washington D.C. for the first time, and he teared up at the memories of the men he knew lost in the Pacific Theatre. I have been at readings, celebrations, performances and lectures with Ed. I have attended too many brilliant eulogies that he has given in honor of so many wonderful Wake Foresters. My children have trick-or-treated at his and Emily’s house and sat mesmerized at his knee while he read Frost and Yeats. Some of my happiest, most meaningful memories are of special times spent with Ed, and I know I am one of thousands of Wake Foresters who have had similar experiences and feel exactly the same way. 

As sad as I am at his passing, I am so grateful to Provost Emeritus Wilson for all that he has bequeathed each of us and Wake Forest. He loved Wake Forest because it spoke to the values he held most deeply: friendship, honesty, integrity, beauty, and justice.  He always believed that the humanities and arts are our core, our moral compass, our differentiator, and when aligned with our outstanding graduate and professional schools and powerhouse STEM and social science programs, can move mountains. 

I have learned so much from him. I hope I can help pass on that learning to the next generation of Wake Foresters.  For me, Ed’s legacy is about the transformative power of friendship and the transformative power of education, in its broadest, humanist sense, on behalf of Pro Humanitate. He will forever be our guiding star.