In Memoriam: Douglas C. Wilson ’62

May 5, 2008

Douglas C. Wilson ’62, longtime Amherst College public affairs officer and editor, died May 5 at his home in Amherst. He was 67. A former Washington journalist, he served his alma mater for 27 years before retiring in 2002.

Prior to joining the college’s administration in 1975, Wilson worked for 13 years as a reporter for The Providence Journal, first in Rhode Island and later as Washington correspondent. On Aug. 7, 1974, he was the first newsperson to report Richard Nixon’s decision to resign as president – a breaking story for which he received the Merriman Smith Memorial Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association.  

Wilson edited Passages of Time: Narratives in the History of Amherst College, an anthology of essays on the college’s history, which was published in December 2007 by Amherst College Press. He wrote eight of the 28 essays, most of which appeared in Amherst, the alumni magazine which he had edited.Earlier this year, the Amherst Historical Society honored him with the second annual Conch Shell Award for his contributions to local history including his recent book.  

Wilson was born in Providence, R. I. on Dec. 18, 1940, a son of the late William E. and Ellen (Cameron) Wilson. He grew up in Bloomington, Ind., where he attended University School before entering Amherst College. After graduating from Amherst with honors with a major in American history in 1962, he earned a master’s degree in international studies from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He began his newspaper career as a reporter in the Providence Journal’s Pawtucket and Newport bureaus, and was on the paper’s city staff in Providence from 1965 to 1968. He was also a public information specialist in Rhode Island’s Army National Guard from 1962 to 1968.

In 1968-69 Wilson was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association, working in Washington as a staff member in the offices of Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Rep. John V. Tunney (D-Calif.). Subsequently, as a reporter in the Journal’s Washington bureau, he wrote stories that included regular coverage of Capitol Hill, a series on the regime of President Salvador Allende in Chile, U.S. presidential politics, and other assignments. 

Wilson left the Providence paper and returned to his alma mater in 1975 as associate secretary of the college. He became Amherst’s secretary for public affairs two years later, succeeding Horace W. Hewlett upon Hewlett’s retirement. He was named college editor in 1998. He was editor of the college’s alumni magazine for 25 years and for much of that time also was Amherst’s media spokesperson. He helped produce most of the college’s publications, including several books issued by Amherst College Press. He collaborated with colleagues to produce The College on the Hill, a book of historical photographs from the college archives.  

Wilson retired in 2002 and was awarded the college’s Medal for Eminent Service in 2003. 

Wilson maintained a lifelong interest in both colonial and nineteenth-century American history. His essay of historical detective work, “Web of Secrecy: Goffe, Whalley, and the Legend of Hadley” [Mass.], about the English regicide judges who found exile in Hadley in the 17th century, was published in the New England Quarterly in 1985. It received that year’s Walter Muir Whitehill Prize of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. 

From 1979 to 1981 Wilson was chairman of Amherst town historical commission. During that time the commission published Lost Amherst, a book of photographs of town, university and college buildings that no longer exist. At different times Wilson also served as a member and chair of both the town’s conservation commission and the Western Massachusetts Broadcasting Council.

He is survived by the local newspaper writer and columnist Cheryl (Bailey) Wilson and three children, Jay Wilson and his wife, Jennifer Zinsser Wilson, of Bronxville, N.Y., Emily Wilson of Brooklyn, N.Y., Samuel Wilson, also of Brooklyn; and a granddaughter, Isabella Rose Wilson, in Bronxville. He is also survived by his older brother, William E. Wilson of Georgetown, Colo., and his twin brother, Swami Anantananda of South Fallsburg, N.Y. He also is survived by a nephew, Gordon Wilson, of San Francisco, Calif., with his wife Melissa Townsend, and their son, Jesse, and by his niece, Ellen Wilson of Carrboro, N.C., and her son, Pablo. 

Memorial gifts may be sent to the American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609-1634 or to the Windham Housing Trust, 68 Birge St., Brattleboro, VT 05301 in honor of his long friendship with Russell Janis.

The funeral will be Friday, May 9, at 1 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, followed by a reception at Amherst College Alumni House. Per the family’s wishes, there will not be a memorial service on campus and burial in South Cemetery will be private.

Notes and remembrances of Wilson are welcomed and can be left at this page



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