Springfield College Remembers John Wilson: Mentor, Teacher, and Friend

Andrew Gutman
Editor in Chief

John WilsonOn Friday, Feb. 13 the Springfield College community suffered a major loss. Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Multicultural Affairs Center John Wilson died from an ongoing battle with health issues.

He started his journey at Springfield 38 years ago as the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment.

Wilson leaves behind his wife Mary-Lou, and although they didn’t have any children, Wilson was a surrogate parent to many, a theme that will present itself more than once in the words of those who knew him.

He guided students to be the best that they could be, and more. Wilson had an effervescent smile that lit up a room, and his passion for working closely with students was what drove him to be the outstanding educator, mentor and, above all else, friend that he was to so many. Although he is gone, his legacy will forever live on, and Springfield College will always remember the wide-eyed, grinning, and passionate Mr. Wilson that made such a great impact and empowered so many.

Below is a collection of quotes from various alumni, current students, and faculty members that truly show the kind of person Mr. Wilson was.

David McMahon – Director of Spiritual Life

“I met him on the day I interviewed for my job at Springfield College and he initially grilled me a little bit to see where I was coming from, but as soon as I started working, on my first day at the job, he always made me feel welcome. John was one of the folks when I was having a difficult time, or if I wanted to understand something or talk something through, he was someone I could come and talk to. I considered him a good friend and in many ways a mentor here.”

“John’s strength wasn’t email or putting together complex spreadsheets. His strength was sitting down with a student, understanding them, understanding their needs, and understanding their strengths. And then—personally. This is what’s important about John’s work: he would personally connect them. If John didn’t have the answer and couldn’t provide the support, he would be someone who would walk over with a student to financial aid and sit with them and work through with them until they could have a solution and could work something out with the student. If a student was having trouble with his family, John would connect with them, with the counseling center, and work with them and reach out to the family and try to negotiate them. If students were having trouble academically, John was always finding tutors, hooking them up with upper class students or  alumni who might be able to mentor these students.”

Alex Martin – Grad Associate for Wilson

“He was really someone who I looked at as a friend that I could sit and have a casual conversation with. He allowed me to vent on issues such as sports, and financial issues that I was going through. He was a great listener, somebody who really took everything in that I was saying to him, and gave me some great advice, and helped me get through that. I really appreciated him a lot for that.”

Neicey Buggs ‘15

“He was there when I needed someone, that’s just how he was. He was always looking out for someone.”

“Since I first got here… people were always like, ‘Go talk to him, he’s great. If you have any issues, go talk to him.’ My freshman year I had a couple of issues with teachers, and I had a lot of financial issues and I talked to him and opened up to him. Over the past four years, he’s been a shoulder to lean on and somebody to trust and get honest feedback from. If you honestly want the truth or you honestly want an opinion, that’s who you go to.”

Ricardo Vieux ‘15

“I was in John’s office during one of the colder parts of fall and we talked about how much he loved to golf, and he had such exuberance when he talked about the sport and at the time the cold weather didn’t afford him the opportunity to play. But we made the deal to go golfing before I graduated when spring came around, but life didn’t afford him that opportunity.”

“As an administrator at Springfield College, people do have their works written about, talked about, or shown in ceremonies. But John, he did so many things for students behind the scenes that were just unmentioned. He really was there for us and really was a great advisor.”

Aaron Kelton ‘92

“I met Mr. Wilson in 1986, when I was a senior in high school. I came up to the college for a recruiting visit, and Coach Delong brought me to his office. We sat down and had a conversation and from that day we clicked.”

“There was a small population [of students of color] on campus, so knowing we had a place to go helped us to be proud of it, and helped us to feel like we belonged to us. That is largely due to John, and what he was able to do in his office. His office was open to everybody, not just students of color. He had such an impact on our lives that our friends, white students, came into his office. That is the kind of impact that he had.”

“Every day of my time at Springfield College I stopped by Mr. Wilson’s office, other than the weekends that he may not have been there, but early on there were a lot of weekends where he was there. He was at our games on Saturdays, or he was doing some sort of event. He was the foundation that a lot of students of color had at the college. We’d all congregate in his office. He was the guy who, when it wasn’t going so great, he’d help us pull ourselves up off of the ground and say ‘keep on going you can do this.’ He was the guy who, if you were struggling, he’d call you and say ‘we need to meet and let’s figure out a plan to help you get through this.’

His role wasn’t just as an administrator; it was as a surrogate parent for a lot of us.

Marty Dobrow – Associate professor of Journalism

“He had a glorious character. He was really a beautiful soul. There was a quiet fire about John Wilson that was apparent to anyone who came into his orbit. Just gentleness, and this sort of slow, rye, gentle, delightful smile that would come onto his face. He was just a wonderful advocate for many students. That to me is his greatest legacy. He was a tremendous leader, a tremendously kind soul, really a surrogate parent. He worked so well with students’ one on one, and recognized that there was a real need here for students of color to have some support. This is a place that in a lot of ways is too white, and this is in a place in which I think students of color can sometimes feel really alone.”

“He was a figure who provided that support in the most kind, decent, and reliable way in many dimensions. He worked with students who were struggling emotionally, academically, and financially… he was just there for students. I don’t think he and his wife had children of their own but he became a real father figure on campus, so he had many, many children who really loved him.”

Cynthia Swan – Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions

“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gotten through Springfield College. Not just academically speaking, but socially speaking. It was him who was kicking us in the butt and trying to give us the tricks of the trade.”

Mary-Beth Cooper – President of Springfield College

“I had a chance to meet John Wilson last summer on one of my first days here. I went to his orientation program for new students, and I was struck by his kindness and how wise he was,” Cooper said. “He was very welcoming to me, and allowed me to meet the students he was speaking with, but again his kindness is what was overwhelming to me when I first met him. He’s passed on, and that is very sad for many, many reasons, but his legacy lives on in so many of his former students, and current students. It is clear through the Facebook posts, and all of the comments I’ve received thus far that he was a great influence on people’s lives. Although we are sad that he is not with us, he will always be with us in the people’s lives he has touched.”

“It’s difficult to measure one person’s influence, but with John I think it’s clear that he saw his role as an advocate for students, and that drove him every day. I think all students need an advocate, and all students need to know that they’re valued, and somebody cares about them. John’s gift was his ability to let other people know that he cared about them, and that they were important.”

Additional reporting done by Logan Mullen and Alanna Grady.

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