Ed Wilson, beloved emeritus professor and provost affectionately known as “Mr. Wake Forest" celebrates his 100th birthday Wednesday.

The Leaksville, North Carolina native began classes at Wake Forest University as a 16-year-old, graduated at the top of his class, and went off to serve during World War II. Wilson later earned advanced degrees from Harvard before returning to his alma mater where his legendary career began in the 1950s.

During his leadership tenure, a faculty committee voted to end segregation and the university established the Wake Forest Press.  As a Professor of English, over the next half century, he inspired thousands of students with his devoted teachings on British romantic poetry, brought to life by his skilled recitations — often by memory — of poems like Thomas Hardy's "The Man He Killed."

"Thomas Hardy wrote a number of rather famous poems about war which he saw as not only devastating, but useless...in terms of achieving anything permanent or worthwhile," says Wilson. "Thomas Hardy himself never went into the army, so he never saw military service. But he puts this poem in the mouth of an English soldier who did in fact go to the continent, and who fought, and who killed someone..." 

           "I shot him dead because —

            Because he was my foe,

Just so: my foe of course he was;

            That's clear enough; although


            "He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,

            Off-hand like — just as I —

Was out of work — had sold his traps —

            No other reason why.

That excerpt was from a conversation recorded at WFDD in October of 2013 ahead of Wilson’s lecture at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem. The interview, along with his complete recitation of Hardy's poem, was broadcast on Triad Arts.

Edwin Graves Wilson is 100 years old. The campus library is hosting a birthday celebration this week and he’ll also be honored during the school’s Founders Day Convocation later this month.  

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