Dr. Edwin G. Wilson, “Mr. Wake Forest”

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Edwin Graves Wilson (b. February 1, 1923), known affectionately as “Mr. Wake Forest,” is Professor Emeritus of English and Provost Emeritus for Wake Forest University. Wilson was born in Leaksville, North Carolina and began classes at Wake Forest at age 16. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A (1943) in English and after graduation, he served as a U.S. Naval officer on a destroyer escort during World War II. Post-war, he received his A.M. (1948) and Ph.D (1952) in English from Harvard University. Wilson returned to his alma mater as an Instructor in English, and was named Professor of English (1959). A skilled and articulate teacher, Dr. Wilson focused on the British Romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and others as well as the poetry of William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and Dylan Thomas.

Professor Wilson had a long and distinguished administrative career at Wake Forest. His positions included: Professor of English (1959- ); Assistant Dean, Undergraduate College (1957-1958); Acting Dean of the College (1958-1960); Dean of the College (1960-1967); Provost (First) (1967-1990); Vice President for Special Projects (1990-1994); Provost Emeritus (1994-1998; 2002- ); and Senior Vice President (1998-2002). Under his leadership, a Faculty Committee voted to end segregation, Wake Forest established its residential study abroad programs in London and Venice, and established the Wake Forest Press. He also represented Wake Forest on numerous national organizations, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), where he also served as president. In 1992, the new wing of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library was named in his honor. Professor Wilson is the recipient of the Reinhardt Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Distinguished Alumni Citation, and in 2004, he received Wake Forest’s highest award for service to the University, the Medallion of Merit.

Professor Wilson has served numerous arts-related organizations throughout his career. He was a Trustee (1977-1980) for the North Carolina Humanities Council, and also served the Piedmont Opera Theater; the Winston-Salem Arts Council; the North Carolina Arts Council; the Reynolda House Museum of American Art; and on the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees.

Professor Wilson was awarded the North Carolina Award for Public Service (2002) and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities (2014) from the North Carolina Humanities Council. He is married to the author and poet Emily Herring Wilson (Wake Forest, M.A. ’62). They are the parents of three children and have four grandchildren.

An exhibit featuring selected individuals from Songs of Wake Forest: Tributes by Edwin G. Wilson is on display in the Graduate Student Lounge (ZSR Library Room 425), which served as Dr. Wilson’s office for many years.

The Edwin G. Wilson Fund supports Special Collections & Archives in continuing Dr. Wilson’s legacy.

Edwin G. Wilson Digital Collection

Selected Works

Revised November 2023