The passing of Everett K. Wilson due to a cerebral hemorrhage on the last day of 1999 marks the loss of a man who had devoted his entire career to the advancement and dissemination of sociology as an intellectually challenging and broadly relevant discipline.
Born in 1913 in Nova Scotia, Wilson moved with his family to the United States shortly after World War I. He graduated from Antioch College during the Depression and worked for two years as teacher and principal at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan, Kentucky, before going to graduate school at the University of Chicago. After a three-year interruption for military service during World War II, Wilson returned to earn his Ph.D. in 1952.
In 1948, Wilson began an 18-year period as faculty member at his undergraduate alma mater. Antioch's national reputation of excellence during this period was based, in part, on its distinctive way of bridging the dialectic between theory and practice through its imaginative work-study program for all students.
But its reputation was also built on the tremendous contributions of brillant and dedicated faculty members who joined teaching and scholarship [and] student with instructor in a single venture that made the [college] a peerless experience in higher education. [From the dedication in his book, Passing on Sociology.]
The camaraderie and intellectual atmosphere inspired countless students to pursue higher degrees, among them, sociologists Bill Gamson, Howard Schuman, Gordon Fellman, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, and Andrea Tyree.
Alas, Antioch as an institution underwent a tumultuous transformation in the mid to 60s with a precipitous decline in the opportunity to work with students who shared Wilson's unquenchable thirst for intellectual challenge and growth.
He left Antioch to serve the American Sociological Association as head of its NSF-funded project to develop curriculum materials for high school students. This constituted the first organized effort to include the discipline as an elective course in secondary schools.
In 1968, Wilson came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He had already established himself as an outstanding pedagogue and scholar. The latter was exemplified by his work as translator of Durkheim, author of a comprehensive and highly literate introductory text, and collaborator with Theodore Newcomb et al. on a seminal work on college peer groups. At UNC, he quickly filled three niches. He became the primary instructor of the graduate theory course. In 1972, he took over the reins as editor of Social Forces, the International Journal of Social Research published by the UNC Press. And, most significantly, he designed and was the initial coordinator of the Department's first-in-the-nation formal program for teaching graduate students how to teach sociology.
In this last role, Wilson worked closely with colleague Charles Goldsmid with whom he authored Passing on Sociology, a 400-page scholarly analysis and set of practical guidelines concerning the instructional process as it should apply to our discipline. The book and the UNC course on teaching have provided a lasting legacy to American sociology both for those who have been inspired to go beyond the customary in their roles as teachers and for others, like Ed Kain and Howard Sacks, who have assumed the mantle of Wilsonian discipleship working in their own institutions and through the ASA to pass on the methods of teaching sociology to future initiates into the profession.
While at Carolina, Wilson also occupied high office in the state, regional, and national professional associations. He served as president of the North Carolina Sociological Association in 1974; vice-president of the American Sociological Association in 1983 ; and president of the Southern Soci ological Society in 1985. He also received the ASA Distinguished Contributions in Teaching Award in 1980.
Though officially retired since 1982, Wilson continued to give service to the department -- most notably as coordinator of its highly successful 75th anniversary celebration in 1995. He was seen often at Hamilton Hall on his way to picking up the daily New York Times on campus, and his cultured demeanor, consummate erudition, twinkle in the eye, and puckish humor were undiminished traits up to the day of his sudden death, only a few hours after his weekly lunch with fellow retired colleague, Amos Hawley.
Wilson is survived by Betty, his wife of 61 years, a daughter, a son, three grandchildren, and countless friends and admirers whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by having known him.
M. Richard Cramer
Glen H. Elder
Richard L. Simpson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Note: We thank the authors for permission to post this in advance of its appearance in Footnotes.
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