In hiring Richard F. Wilson as president, University leaders quickly saw a major asset in his spouse — “a package deal,” as Board of Trustees Chair George Vinyard ’71 describes it.
“On any objective level,” Vinyard says, “Pat’s been a dream.”
Going in, Pat knew much about the job: her father was a university president and her mother a college dean of women and a professor. Pat’s own experiences added to her insights: she holds an Ed.D. in educational administration and was a school principal and coordinator of the Champaign, Ill., school district’s early childhood programs before being named executive director of the University of Illinois’ Council on Teacher Education.
In 2010, she returned to her educational roots by serving as acting chair of Illinois Wesleyan’s Educational Studies Department. In addition to serving on numerous community boards, Pat was a driving force behind the Council for IWU Women, an Alumni Association program that builds bridges of support between current female students and successful Illinois Wesleyan alumnae.
In his inaugural address, Dick spoke of Pat’s importance in his decision-making process. “Our relationship is such that we cannot wait to talk to each other at the end of the day. I have come to expect that she will know when it is time to express support and concern and when she needs to stir my resolve. There are many blessings associated with the presidency at Illinois Wesleyan, but the most important one is that we get to do this together.”
Susan Bassi, who served as the president’s executive assistant for 19 years during both the Myers and Wilson administrations, knows
Pat’s contributions as well as anyone. “Pat had a stellar career in education, a strong and successful family and was a major contributor to the style, creativity and beauty that uplifted and upgraded IWU,” says Bassi. “She hosted thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members and never said ‘no.’ She flew and drove thousands of miles and could tell the IWU story as well as Dick.”
From the start, the first couple kept a busy schedule. “When we were on campus we’d entertain as host for 40 to 50 events a year,” says Pat. “That first semester, Dick and I were home alone four nights in four months.”
Dick and Pat logged in thousands of travel miles during the Transforming Lives campaign to make the case for supporting Illinois Wesleyan at alumni events and one-on-one.
“We traveled extensively — and 80 percent of it Pat and I did together,” Dick recalls. Sometimes, as in a recent two-week swing up and down both coasts of Florida, that meant breakfast, lunch and dinner events each and every day.
What energized them both, they say, was the sheer joy of seeing how an Illinois Wesleyan education had profoundly changed the lives of both students and alumni.
“So many of our students come from humble roots,” says Pat. “They’re not an entitled group, by and large. They come back wide-eyed from study abroad. They talk about how their professors gave them an opportunity to do something they thought would not be possible for them to try as college students. They head off to jobs eager and excited about life — and confident that Illinois Wesleyan has prepared them well for what’s ahead.”