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Editor's Note: W. Malcolm Wilson died unexpectedly April 5, 2001, in Waterville, a few days before the print version of Colby magazine containing this profile came off the press.
"I think I'll always be involved," said W. Malcolm Wilson '33, talking about his advocacy for people and families afflicted by mental illness. "As long as I live and breathe, that's what I want to do."
At 89, Wilson is living and respiring at a rate to make younger folks envious. He drops in to visit at the Waterville Social Club--a support system for people with mental illness that he helped to establish--at least once a week, he didn't miss a home game of the Colby men's ice hockey team all year, and the former ice-hockey captain at Colby is still skating twice a week. Winter before last, some younger friends talked him into skating the length of Messalonskee Lake--about eight miles from Sidney to Oakland. "I almost died," he said, with the same mock alarm you hear from a teenage athlete after a hard practice.
Wilson grew up in Framingham, Mass., and was recruited to play hockey at Dartmouth. But when the stock market crashed in 1929 and his father was "cleaned out," Wilson told his history teacher, "I'm going to have to go to work." That teacher, the late Ed Merrill '25, intervened and got Wilson a place in the Class of '33. He did janitorial work in old Hedman Hall for his board, majored in history and won the Condon Medal at graduation. Wilson lettered in hockey, football and tennis, was a member of Phi Delta Theta and president of his sophomore class. (The former Phi Delt house is now Perkins-Wilson, in honor of him and Cy Perkins '32.)
Wilson grew up in Framingham, Mass., and was recruited to play hockey at Dartmouth. But when the stock market crashed in 1929 and his father was"cleaned out," Wilson told his history teacher, "I'm going to have to go to work." That teacher, the late Ed Merrill '25, intervened and got Wilson a place in the Class of '33. He did janitorial work in old Hedman Hall for his board, majored in history and won the Condon Medal at graduation. Wilson lettered in hockey, football and tennis, was a member of Phi Delta Theta and president of his sophomore class. (The former Phi Delt house is now Perkins-Wilson, in honor of him and Cy Perkins '32.)
He worked for W.T. Grant before serving in the Navy during WWII, and afterward he taught school in Maine and Washington state. He worked for Investors Diversified Services (IDS) in Seattle and returned to Maine in the 1960s, retiring from Coles Express in 1980.
"I've always been a sucker for getting involved in community activities," he said. He chaired West Coast fund raising for Colby's Ford Foundation challenge in the 1960s, and in Waterville he served the Rotary, the YMCA, the United Way and the American Friends Service Committee. In the late 1970s his activism focused after one of his children suffered a breakdown and entered years of mental health care and rehabilitation.
Wilson and his wife, Barbara, got involved with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), helping to launch a Maine alliance and setting upfamily support organizations "from Madawaska to Portland." For three years he served on the NAMI's national board of directors. Locally he helped establish the High Hopes House, a transitional employment program for persons with mental illness, and the Waterville Social Club, where he still visits for coffee, cribbage and friendship. He received a Colby Brick in 1981 and the Maine Broadcasting System's Jefferson Award in 1987.
Wilson is still passionate about the need for social services and compassion. Progress in treating mental illness, particularly brain research, has been impressive in recent years, and services in Waterville are pretty good; "but there's a lot of things about the system I'd want to see changed," he said. "There are still too many stigmas."
Though much of the progress in Waterville can be laid at his feet, Wilson says he repeatedly declined to serve on the board of the Kennebec Valley Mental Health Center.
"I think I can do more good on the outside," he said. "I think one-on-one is the way to go. That's the way Jesus operated."
--Stephen Collins '74
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Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education
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