Deceased February 7, 2007
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Dr. Bob Wilson died suddenly on February 7, 2007, of an acute myocardial infarction after a glorious day of skiing in Crested Butte, CO. His wife, Judy (Smith ’64), was at his side.
Bob was a complex and endearing human being, a contrarian who enlivened conversation with surprising and provocative interjections aimed more, I suspect, at enriching the dialogue than at pushing a particular point of view. Broadly interested and well-informed, he respected people from all walks of life. And like all of us, he was flawed. The beauty of Bob was that he was admittedly flawed, and because of that, he was tolerant of the foibles of others. He was the kind of guy who, sensing your need for counsel or comfort, would answer the phone at 4 a.m. and be an ear ’till the sun came up, occasionally asking a quiet question to let you know he was still listening.
After med school at the University of Rochester and training at Vermont and Temple, he joined the medical faculty at UCLA in 1977. Four years later, he and Judy made a life-changing decision. They left the throb of the city, the vicissitudes of academic life, the chance for fame and fortune, to seek a more cohesive community and proximity to the great outdoors. Bob joined the Mt. Ascutney Medical Group in Windsor, VT, where he would practice general internal medicine for the next twenty-four years. He was an exceptional physician with the perfect balance of knowledge, experience and compassion—the essential ingredients of what we doctors call “good clinical judgment.” He listened carefully to his patients; he knew when to act and when to wait, how to make decisions based on imperfect information, when to push and how hard. Despite the fact that we were separated by 3,000 miles, he was the one I always called first and his was the opinion I always trusted most when it came to my own health and that of my family.
Sports were part of Bob’s life from birth. He grew up in Amherst where his father, Rick Wilson, was the basketball coach at the College for twenty-nine years. Perhaps because he was a coach’s son, Bob was both a participant in sports and a student of sports. He was also a tenacious competitor. When he was quarterback and captain of the Amherst High School football team, he took a wicked blow to the head in a critical game. He picked himself up, stumbled to the huddle and called the play. “Twelve on two.” Six downs later, when he had called “twelve on two” six plays in a row, it dawned on his teammates that something was amiss. Bob was so determined to win they had to drag him off the field.
At the age of fifty-six he made another gutsy move, putting his practice on hold for a year while he completed a sports medicine fellowship at Marshall University in Kentucky. It added a new and welcome dimension to his career; and it consolidated his love of medicine with his love of sports. He was a volunteer teacher at Dartmouth Medical School and received standing ovations for talks with titles like “Physical Examination of the Human Knee.” When he retired in 2005, he relished the opportunity it afforded for new learning, travel, and, his greatest joy, time spent with his two grandchildren.
He was an extraordinary solver of puzzles. He routinely did standard crossword puzzles without the diagram. But his full virtuosity came forth in solving cryptic puzzles like the ones published by The Atlantic and Harper’s. I’d call him up and say, “I’m stuck on the clue that reads; ‘A racer at the front, in problem-solving course, running epic race’,” and he’d say “Oh, let’s see, ‘A racer at the front’ is ‘ar’, problem-solving course is ‘math’, so we’ve got ‘ar’ in ‘math’ or ‘marath’; ‘running’ means ‘on’ so we add ‘on’ to ‘marath’ and we have ‘marathon’ which happens to mean ‘epic race’.”
Bob Wilson was a wonderful guy. He was the best doctor I ever knew and the best friend I ever had. We have lost a man who cared. He’s gone too soon.
John Fitchen ’67