Former Vice President, Long-time Professor, Dies
(Released: March 14,
By Richard Veilleux, Office of University Communications
STORRS, Conn. -- Kenneth G. Wilson, a widely quoted expert on
the English language and a long time administrator and faculty
member at the University of Connecticut, died Tuesday, March 11, at
his home in Mansfield. He was 79.
Wilson came to UConn in 1951 as an English instructor. He was
named head of the English department in 1965, dean of the College
of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1966, and vice president for
academic programs in 1970. Many of his contemporaries credit Wilson
with starting the process of making UConn a nationally respected
University. He returned to teaching in 1981, retiring in 1989.
Wilson received acclaim with the 1987 publication of the book
Van Winkle's Return: Change in American English,
1966-1986, which was conceived when Wilson returned to the
classroom and was shocked by the language, often crude or vulgar,
that students of the 1980s used casually. In 1993, he published the
widely respected Columbia Guide to Standard American
English. Both were written in Wilson's singular, direct
style, laced with humor. Wilson also authored dozens of other books
"Ken had a wonderfully direct manner, and a very salty,
wonderful kind of humor," said John J. Gatta Jr., a colleague
of Wilson's and currently interim head of the English
department. "The Guide reflected his temperament,
directness and humor, but also conveyed his flexibility. He
didn't believe in the Holy Rules of English."
Milton Stern, an English department colleague and friend of
Wilson's, said, "Ken was one of the most valuable people
the University has ever had. His intellectual nimbleness made him
prime material for really serious administration. He was not a
numbers guy, but was interested in university building, not bricks
and mortar but building the University from the inside out.
UConn's buildings were up, but the brains hadn't been put
inside them" until Wilson became academic vice president,
"He and Homer Babbidge built an enviable and increasingly
recognizable life sciences group. They really put UConn's life
sciences on the map," Stern continued, adding "Ken gave
the loyalties of his life to the University. He was a superb
teacher, a superb scholar, and a superb administrator"
Harry Hartley, UConn's president from 1990-96, echoed
"Ken Wilson was one of the best academic administrators
ever in higher education," said Hartley, who was hired by
Wilson as dean of the School of Education in 1972. "His
instincts were almost always correct, and he always put the
Wilson was a member of dozens of organizations, including the
Modern Language Association, the Medieval Academy of America, the
National Council of English Teachers, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa
Phi. He consulted for the National Endowment for the Humanities,
and served two terms on the New England Association of Schools and
Colleges' Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, the
region's primary accrediting board.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Wilson earned his bachelor's degree
from Albion College in Albion, Mich., in 1943; and both his
master's degree (1948) and doctoral degree (1951) from the
University of Michigan. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corp from
1943-46, including service in Europe.
Wilson leaves his wife of 56 years, Marilyn Clarke Wilson of
Mansfield; a son and daughter-in-law, Derek and Ruth Wilson of
Willimantic; a daughter and son-in-law, Stephanie and Douglas Haas
of Durham, N.C.; a brother and sister-in-law, Lynn and Barbara
Wilson of Chicago, Ill.; and three grandchildren, Daniel Wilson of
Sioux Falls, S.D., Kate Linderson of Lebanon, Conn., and Rebecca
Wilson of Port Clyde, Maine. He was predeceased by his parents,
Herbert and Margaret (Johns) Wilson.
There will be no funeral services. A memorial service will be
held March 29 at 1 p.m. at Zenny's Restaurant in Mansfield. In
lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Kenneth
Wilson Book Foundation, c/o the Homer Babbidge Library, Attn. Linda
Perrone, UConn Libraries, Unit 1205, Storrs, CT 06269; or to
Hospice of Eastern Connecticut, 34 Ledgebrook Drive, P.O. Box 716,
Mansfield, CT 06250-0716.
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