ARRL President Emeritus George Wilson, W4OYI (SK)
George S. Wilson III, W4OYI, of Owensboro, Kentucky, passed away at his home on November 25. He was 76. Wilson served as the ARRL's 11th President from January 1992-July 1995. He resigned from the position after a stroke in 1995. Wilson's tenure in ARRL leadership included positions as Kentucky Section Emergency Coordinator, Kentucky Section Communications Manager, Vice Director and Director of the Great Lakes Division, as well as Vice President and First Vice President, eventually culminating in the position of ARRL President. Upon retirement from the League's top position, Wilson was named President Emeritus based on his lifelong commitment to Amateur Radio and the League -- one of only four people granted this honor. He also served as an Assistant Director in the Great Lakes Division.
After his stroke, which left him completely paralyzed on his left side, Wilson stepped down after serving just over three years in the League's top volunteer position. He told the ARRL Board of Directors that while he felt had made progress in rehabilitation, his medical condition prevented him from travelling and from devoting the energy required to perform the demanding duties of the office. He expressed his appreciation to the members of the Board for the opportunity to serve.
Wilson told the Board's July 1995 meeting that "The League has my undying love and support." To honor Wilson's service to the ARRL and to Amateur Radio as a whole, the Board named him ARRL President Emeritus. His legacy includes a near lifelong involvement in the League's emergency and public service communications programs. He remained active in public service and emergency communication until his death.
Then-ARRL First Vice President Rod Stafford, W6ROD (ex KB6ZV), moved up to fill Wilson's shoes. Upon taking the position, Stafford said that Wilson "believe[d] in team building, in getting people involved and keeping them informed. That the ARRL was able to function so seamlessly while George was incapacitated is a testimony to his own management style."
According to ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ, Wilson suffered his stroke in February 1995 while on ARRL business in Washington, DC. "The stroke left George physically limited," Sumner said, "but he remained mentally active and stayed in touch with his friends, mainly by e-mail and some CW operating. The history of the ARRL is highlighted -- indeed, our history has been made possible -- by the extraordinary contributions of many volunteers. With George's death, we've lost one of the great ones."
"George was a personable individual who preferred to look at things from a simple perspective," said current ARRL President Joel Harrison, W5ZN. "When I attended my first ARRL Board meeting as a young 28 year old Director, George was elected Vice President. During time on the Board afterward, he provided me with some valuable experience that allowed me to be an effective Director working within the great democratic process that we benefit from. After he experienced his terrible medical situation while serving as ARRL President, he displayed great resilience in moving forward; Amateur Radio not only played a part in his recovery, but a major part of his life afterward. His involvement in Amateur Radio will be missed, but his impact will remain. It is a sad loss."
A lawyer by profession, Wilson, according to Sumner, "played the role of a simple small-town lawyer disarmingly well when he debated, right up to the point where he skewered his opponent with surgical precision. It was great fun to watch as long as you weren't the one being skewered!"
Ohio Section Manager Joe Phillips, K8QOE, fondly remembered Wilson, recalling a meeting he had with the ARRL President in the early 1990s: "I was seated at a table at the Findlay Hamfest in Ohio. I had ARRL President George Wilson, W4OYI, on one side of me and then-Great Lakes Division Director Al Severson, AB8P (SK) on the other. They were discussing problems within the ARRL. I was impressed at the depth of their concern for the future of the ARRL. Al left and George stayed behind; he gave me a quick lesson on ARRL service to the membership. He taught me the meaning of constituency service to the membership when you wore an ARRL leadership badge. I had only recently been appointed Ohio Section Public Information Coordinator and I never gave membership service any real thought. George Wilson redirected my thinking that morning. He was a real giant in ARRL leadership, with his greatest accomplishment being an inspiration to others. He was particularly effective because he had that 'plain old guy' appearance, while working with a keen mind and impressive spirit. I will miss him."
In 2004, Wilson received the Special Achievement Award, sponsored by the Dayton Hamvention. Nominated by current ARRL Great Lakes Vice Director Gary Johnston, KI4LA; former ARRL First Vice President Steve Mendelsohn, W2ML, and Amateur Radio Newsline's Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF, they noted that Wilson "spent his entire ham radio career in devoted service to his community, to his country, to his hobby and in service with its only national representative body. He has given of himself because that's his nature."
Johnston, Mendelsohn and Pasternak said that "those of us close to George knew [that resigning as ARRL President] was not an easy decision for him to make, but one that he had to face. He had so many ideas and plans for making ham radio a hobby and service to be shared with the world. Yet he knew that his physical condition was such that he must devote his every waking moment to 'rehab' if he would at some later date again be able to contribute to the service that he loved so much."
The nomination continued: "When he took office [as ARRL President], George Wilson made it clear that he would do all he could to preserve our ham bands and make them more pleasant to operate. He has been at the forefront of efforts in both areas. The results can be seen in several areas of the hobby including the creation of the vanity call sign program and a major victory in retaining Amateur Radio access in the 902-928 MHz [33 cm] band."
His nomination recounted Wilson's beginnings as a radio amateur. Licensed at 16, Wilson took to 40 meters with a home-brew transmitter consisting of a 6L6 oscillator tube driving an 807 running about 30 W of power, a simple receiver and wire antenna. "His first exposure to the world of emergency service communications came [when he was only 17] in December 1949 when the Green River overflowed its banks and flooded the town of Calhoun [Kentucky]," the application stated. "As the emergency crystallized, relief workers found stranded residents calling in for evacuation. Ferry boats would go get them, only to have to turn around [and] go right back because the next door neighbor had since also requested evacuation. What was needed was communications between the relief agency in Owensboro and the boats involved in the rescues. As there were no cellular telephones, 2 meter [handheld transceivers] or repeaters in that era, George and his comrades installed CW rigs on the two ferries and one at the local courthouse to act as a 'dispatch.' The system worked flawlessly and made rescue of those stranded by the flooding more efficient. In reality, it most likely saved lives. The die was cast and George Wilson, W4OYI, was hooked on public service."
In the years since his stroke, Wilson used a wheelchair, making travel to hamfests and conventions a bit difficult. As a result, his ham radio public service activities were limited to those he could do from or near his home. As such, Wilson devoted much of his time to monitoring the local repeater for those in need of assistance and was active in the Owensboro Amateur Radio Club and ARES®.
In 2003, amateurs in the Great Lakes Division created the George S. Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award. This annual award is presented to a Division member who has "contributed greatly to the overall vitality of the Amateur Radio Service."
In addition to his wife Marian (of 51 years) and his children Berry and Jennifer, Wilson is also survived by two grandchildren, Meghan and Rachel. Visitation will take place Friday, November 28 from 2-7 PM at the James H. Davis Funeral Home in Owensboro; an online guestbook is available. Services will be at 10 AM at the funeral home the following day. Wilson will be interred at Elmwood Cemetery, also in Owensboro. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Wilson's name be made to the American Red Cross.