Rodney Eugene Wilson retired from the Santa Fe Railway in 1986 after forty-three years with the company. When he retired, it was the first time in the 20th Century that no member of his family was working with the Santa Fe.
Rodney was born in Arkansas City, KS, and spent his growing up years in Guthrie, OK, and Arkansas City, KS. Rodney served in the South Pacific with the U.S. Navy as a signalman second class in World War II. He later attended Arkansas City Junior College and Emporia State. After retirement, Rodney served as a volunteer for fifteen years with Rotary International, leading working teams to Portugal, Mexico and Haiti. For nine years he joined a medical team working in the Dominican Republic. Rodney traveled to forty-five countries, many as a volunteer for Rotary, the Institute of Cultural Affairs and Village Presbyterian Church. All who encountered him loved him and were touched by his grace and sense of humor. He received five major awards from Rotary International Foundation: Citation for Meritorious Service, Service Above Self, Distinguished Service, Rotary Volunteer in Action, and he was one of seventy-five “Candles” to celebrate Rotary International Foundation’s 75th anniversary. He was the only Rotarian in the world to receive all five of these awards.
Survivors include: wife, Priscilla; son and daughter-in-law Ben and Tina Wilson of Arden Hills, MN; son Tim Wilson of Hood River, OR; daughter Mary VanRyzin of Prairie Village, KS; brother Fred and his wife Diane of Boerne, TX; four grandchildren, Marcel and wife Phaedra of Mounds View, MN, Jeffrey and wife, Christy of Mounds View, MN, Nora and Warren Van Ryzin of Prairie Village, KS; and three great-grandchildren, Alexander, Elizabeth and Aurora. In addition to his parents Fred and Helyn Wilson.
This is a sad day for the world but one of joy in the completion of such wonderful spirit. So many memories from the days that the Guardians met at the Wood’s home working together with Joe and the rest. Rod always brought fun to the events even when Joe got so frustrated with the rest of us. Those were the days when we lived effectively in the new society as we dragged out personal experiences from living Permeators in order to ground the questions and ideas in real life. Then his unique carpentry skills and humor helped us restore Kaze’s domicile where many Order surprises were built in to her walls. So many stories and so many times of rich collegiality will be missed but will be remembered as his blessing to us.
~~ Jim and Alice Baumbach
Sandra and I are grieving with you, your family and many others at the passing of a dear friend and colleague. So many images of his spirit and energy surface at these moments: Rodney in a tool belt and hammer working in a project, facilitating LENS, global treks with Joe Mathews, discussing institute finances at Board meetings, engaging in human development consults, or standing with a pair of binoculars watching the warblers at Pelee Island. Each image is filled with the dignity, respect and joy for life that he embraced. We are humble before this gentle soul and his gifts, grateful that he has been in our life and especially prayerful and supporting of you and your family. With love and blessings and peace,
~~ Sandy and Bob True
From all over the world, you can hear Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! echoing thank you, thank you, Muddy boots, dirty hands, jacket or suit – he lived each day as a gift and in so doing turned his life into a gift to all of us. Thanks Rodney and to his family for sharing.
A story: In 1984, in New Delhi at the International Exposition for Rural Development (IERD), we sent teams out to places across India for visits to exceptional examples of sustainable development. Rodney’s team was traveling by train, of course. They had a great three day site visit, Their troubles arose when returning. They missed their train. (All 20 people in first class seats.) Rodney’s solution was simple. He waltzed into the Station Master’s office, presented him with his Santa Fe Railroad business card. The next train bound for New Delhi, 20 first class passengers were booted off and our delegates returned on time for the plenary and reporting.
~~ Paula Philbrook
Priscilla, Since Fred and I knew you and Rodney as a couple in many of our encounters, our stories often revolve around the two of you. Paula story sent me off in several directions re: the Wilson family. The IERD , oh,my …. Fred and I remained in Chikale getting ready as one of the visit sites from the IERD. WE had arrived in India in September, 1983 in the midst of the monsoons, spent a week in Maliwada at a council meeting, and arrived in Chikale, walking nearly waste deep in water crossing the creek to get to our house. Discovering (from Paula) that the German embassy was sending folks out to dedicate the school in a nearby village of PALI, Fred and I along with all of our colleagues in the village gasped! What school? WE got the materials together and with some help from Vijay Lokande were able to build the school in time for the visitors to arrive. Paula did put them off until after the monsoons. Then the preparation time for the IERD came and many of our fine staff were assigned to Delhi for that task. I was sick for about 2 months after arriving in India with several “bugs” that one can aquire in similar circumstances. I remember spending some time in Bombay but mainly was in Chikale.
Now comes the Rodney and Priscilla story. Following the IERD site visit and the completion of one phase of the work in Delhi, Priscilla announced that they were coming to Chikhale and taking Fred and me to the Taj Hotel for a couple of days. THEY SAVED MY LIFE!
We have encountered the WIlsons many times over the past 30 years. It was always in a wonderfully supportive situations. The last was a visit and introduction to their son, Tim who lives in Hood River, Oregon. Rodney and Priscilla had flown to Oregon, Fred and I joined them near Portland for lunch. Since Fred had already been diagnosed with ALS, and Rodney had not been well for some time, we knew that it was a final visit, at least with the beloved men in our lives. What a time we had, talking, hugging, remembering. Tim took a picture of the four of us old friends together. I have had that photo near my computer even since, What a treasure to have friends like Priscilla and Rodney. With love and deep gratitude,
~~ Nancy Lanphear
Rodney to Priscilla.
Quiet strength, Iron resolve.
Humble….not seeking the limelight.
When our global initiatives stretched us beyond comfort,
It was good to know that Rod was there.
Rotary recognized that as well.
Rod was a Rotary man, which means he was a
Strong example to us,
To his fine children.
A husband who encouraged Priscilla to spread her wings,
Fly the coup from time to time,
And to come home to dinner.
We and the world are made stronger by
Rod’s having been here.
We will miss you.
~~. Elise Packard
“Going a Round with Rodney”
One of my regrets in my life is that I did not spend as much time with my friend, Rodney Wilson, as I would have liked. That’s because the few times we did spend together were some of my most cherished and I wished there had been more. We had known each other from the late 60’s through the work of the Ecumenical institute – I as a young staff and he as a board member “guardian.” Our paths crossed from time to time for the next 20 years or so and in different places around the world and frankly my memory is a little weak on exactly when and where.
It wasn’t until the late 80’s and early 90’s that I came to know Rodney in a most treasured manner. Again the details are blurry but the location was Belgium. The infrastructure that had held the institute together had just been called out of being in late 1988 and some of us were trying to figure out what would be the global glue that would hold us together into the future. During that short interval the ICA International held two or three events in Brussels which Rodney and I attended together for one or two of them. These occasions were meetings where ICAI was thinking through some thorny issues of re-inventing itself to provide a base of global connectedness.
Rodney and I soon discovered that we shared a similar penchant and that was a disdain for long meetings, which the ICA was known for. We would find it compulsory to take our leave of the momentous deliberations underway and remove ourselves to the community plaza where there was a local tavern that served Belgium’s famous brew, Stella Artois. We would sit outside on the square and enjoy people-watching and discussing the news of the day and other heady topics in the late afternoon before dinner. We would be frequently joined by other comrades in collaborative misery, most notably, Dick Seacord.
The Stellas would be served in large slender coned glasses with its logo prominently displayed. It was Rodney’s duty each day to utter his famous mantra, “The first round’s on me,” to which I can report no one ever objected. His logic, he shared with me, was that people tended to forget who ordered what in later rounds and some poor schmuck would be stuck with the tab. While regrettably true, the real reason for Rodney’s generosity was that since the rest of us were usually cash-strapped staff members, no one could afford any other rounds anyway.
Besides, the flasks of the Stellas lasted …. Well, they lasted a lifetime, to be honest. I cannot tell you one single world problem we resolved, not one replication of a human development project we initiated, not one financial conundrum we untangled. But I can tell you those conversations at dusk were some of the most wonder-filled moments of my life. We just simply talked. A bunch of guys shooting the breeze and wondering what was the meaning of it all. They were more like a tonic than an ale; a chance to commiserate, blow off some steam, and laugh at our attachments to the old order passing away. Invariably, we would discuss why the train system in the US couldn’t be more like that in Europe, a topic Rodney was well-equipped to indulge.
You can’t go to Belgium without making the pilgrimage to Brugge, a town preserved in the Middle Ages half-way to the English Channel. So the body in residence made its trek on the train and Rodney and I discovered that while we both enjoyed Brugge, we each had been there enough to not care too much for staring at the tedious process of lace-making one more time. So, as you can imagine, we found the best people-watching, outdoor-seating tavern we could find, situated ourselves comfortably, and imbibed on the national lager for the duration. It was during this one visit that Rodney took a photo of me which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite portraits.
Time moves on and people go and do the things they feel compelled they must. But for a brief moment of history, two lives overlapped that made all the difference in the world. My feeble attempts to resurrect those moments have been unsuccessful. And my memory of the details is long gone, but the experience has remained intact in my being to this day.
If I were to aggregate all my times, experiences and memories of Rodney and summarize them into one word it would “Loyalty.” Rodney was loyal to his church, the Rotary Club, the EI/ICA, Santa Fe, and, of course, his family and to his friends. If he found someone with whom he enjoyed their particular company, he would do whatever he could to make that person feel welcome, honored and treasured. He would support whatever efforts he himself had established with a personal connection.
Rodney tended to shy away from center stage, feeling more comfortable behind the scenes. He liked that, I think, not because he wasn’t good at being in the limelight. Indeed, when those occasions were thrust upon him, he performed magnificently. Rather, he just enjoyed sharing the spotlight with those whom he genuinely thought disserved it more than he. He never seemed to realize that it was his supportive nature that propelled others around him to greatness. Or, if he did, he never bragged about it. That was not his nature.
You could depend on Rodney. He was there for you and you knew it. And you could rely on his steadfastness as surely as if there was a rock to stand on. He encouraged you to be your best. Rodney was the consummate team player. Okay, maybe he took off every now and then to join me and others for a local brew. Rodney, though, simply redefined what team he was on for the moment. We use to having a saying at the institute that went something like, “Always say ‘Yes’.” That meant that whenever a colleague asked for your assistance, your first response was to be always “yes.” Rodney was the personification of that principle. We had another saying that I’m sure was modeled after Rodney: “Whatever it takes.” He did whatever it took whenever it became necessary.
History is going to miss Rodney’s physical presence in this world. But his spirit lives within me, I know, and will forever. I’m just as sure it lives within countless others he touched around the world. Rodney served as a premier example of service to humankind – not in the abstract, but in the concrete – to specific people, to specific projects, to specific organizations. His care for the world was “grounded” in the particular. He wrote no treatises, he authored no philosophy. He waxed eloquent on only those things that mattered to him in the here and now. He affirmed life and in his affirmation of life, he affirmed that which gives all beings life, the Ground of all Being. And It, and all who knew him, return the favor.
Thank you, Rodney, for your Presence in my life and in all those you encountered. I hope St. Peter enjoys the First Round!