Edwin G. Wilson, a beloved former Wake Forest University Professor of English and Provost Emeritus, has died at the age of 101. 

Wilson’s time at Wake Forest University began in 1939 as a student. After a few years in the Navy, and then four at Harvard Graduate School, he spent the rest of his life there. 

For more than five decades he was an English professor, focusing on British romantic poetry. He was also the university’s first provost — a title he held for 23 years. 

In an interview with WFDD’s Paul Garber, Wilson explained what it was about the university that made him return — and stay. 

“The fact that it had a kind of spirit that I embraced,” Wilson said. “People knowing and liking each other, and the community of similar minds that wanted to do the best they could for each other, both in learning and in living.”

Wilson led the university through several transitions, like moving the college to Winston-Salem and desegregation. In addition, during his leadership tenure, the school established the Wake Forest University Press. 

Current Wake Forest Provost Michele Gillespie said he also built a strong liberal arts foundation that has benefited students. 

“They think about the arts, and philosophy, and history, and literature, and beauty and nature,” Gillespie said. “They feel compelled to act with character and integrity, as well as do their professions really, really well. And I really, really think that's what Ed was all about.” 

Gillespie said he was also a good mentor and friend. 

“He was warm, gracious, charming. He's so kind, so thoughtful. He had an extraordinary memory about the details of your life,” she said. “So I might not see him for six months or nine months, but he would know what book project I was working on, or what course I was up to teach, or he'd know details about my kids.”

Between his work, and his friendly nature, Wilson earned the nickname “Mr. Wake Forest.” 

At a question and answer session hosted by the university, Wilson explained what else he’d like to be known for:

“As a devoted husband, a loving father, and a loving grandfather would be the things that I would be most happy about in my life,” he said. 

The Wilson family is planning a memorial service open to the public on May 3 in Wait Chapel. 

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