October 2004

Faculty Feature

Dr. Ray Wilson

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what I had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." –Henry Thoreau

"Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh." –George Bernard Shaw

The Pulse would like to honor the late Dr. Ray Wilson in its first Faculty Feature for his dedication to undergraduate academic scholarship. In Dr. Wilson's 31 years at Baylor, he mentored hundreds of honors and pre-med students not only with their theses, but by building friendships in the pursuit of fostering holistic and lasting educational experiences. Honored with many teaching awards (among these, 1997 Collins Outstanding Professor, seven "Top Professor" awards by the Mortar Board, and Master Teacher designation last year), Dr. Wilson was appointed as the Director of the Honors Program this past summer. Besides these honors, evidence of Dr. Wilson's highest achievements is his students, who continue to live the lessons he taught.

According to Dean Hibbs of the Honors College, Dr. Wilson was appointed Director of the Honors Program because his academic activity centered on the relationships he fostered with students and faculty. Dean Hibbs desired that Dr. Wilson's "enormous enthusiasm for seeing students happy at the task of learning" would be a driving force of the program. The dozens of research theses Dr. Wilson directed were only the most visible of his many services to students bound for graduate or medical schools. He also spent countless hours, both on and off campus, in personal mentoring, giving advice, writing recommendations, and otherwise encouraging students to achieve at the highest level they could.

Dean Hibbs added that "behind all these stories and jokes you hear about was Dr. Wilson's unbridled enthusiasm and energy for his students." Dr. Wilson dispelled the teacher/student hierarchy that exists in most educational settings. Thomas Saadeh, a former student in all of Dr. Wilson's basic courses, remembers that "Ray's attention to students' scholarship was a by-product more than anything else [of his concern to] be a servant. Every student was a colleague to him, and he told us so." In addition to his famous hands-on-the-belly cackle after a good student prank, his $100 purchase of an authentic Degas, his A-J multiple choice tests, his famous cars, "Nova Girl" and "'Vette," or his favorite pedagogical tool, the "ice pick," Dr. Wilson's students remember him most for his friendship. In his Baylor magazine article, "Endangered Art," Dr. Wilson preached what he practiced: "The bedrock of all friendships should be love. . .In that sense, faculty should be in love with their students." Dr. Wilson nurtured friendships with students in myriad ways: he led Bible studies, set up couples, ate with and cooked for students, housed students in his home, and advised them on their academic and personal futures.

According to Josh Hamilton, Dr. Wilson's lab technician and student, these long-lasting friendships which began in the classroom became the "bedrock" of many students' futures. Now a medical student at Texas A&M University, Josh is deeply committed to remembering his professor with joy: "'W' had such a zest for life. . .he sucked the marrow out of life, so there was no tragedy in his passing." Baylor senior Susan Sparks-Bauer says this joy was palpable even at Dr. Wilson's memorial service: "I've never laughed so much at a funeral. We didn't feel like we were being rude by laughing."

Dr. Wilson was a moral examplar of academic scholarship because he valued people first. He taught and studied with passion because of his desire to enrich and bless others. He will be remembered more for this than any awards he received or any position he filled because, in his own words, he "hop[ed] for the ultimate achievement of others," and aimed all his actions towards this end. It is for this reason that The Pulse honors Dr. Wilson and celebrates his indefatigable efforts for the educational achievements of his students.