Pat Wilson put her own distinctive mark on Illinois Wesleyan.
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
“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
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