Bertram Wilson, Former Personnel Director, Dies
Lt. Col. Bertram W. Wilson, former director of personnel at the University, died July 9 in a swimming accident at his home in Ashford. He was 80.
Wilson, who worked at UConn from 1969 to 1979, is remembered as "truly an officer and a gentleman."
Ron Taylor, vice provost for multicultural affairs, said Wilson "was among the first of the few people of color who occupied administrative positions at that time." He was "a very decent, very gentle man," Taylor said.
Dennis Dion, who joined the University in 1974 and is now manager of retirement benefits, said "Bert was a great guy to work for. He knew how to make employees feel good about what they were doing."
Wilson was directly involved in hiring for non-faculty positions. At that time, non-faculty employees were hired from lists of those who had passed state qualifying exams. Dion said Wilson emphasized seeking the best candidate for the position.
Cynthia Adams, associate vice provost for multicultural affairs, who joined the University in 1972, said Wilson "was very good at making a match between incoming new people and positions where they could make a contribution. He had a flair for sizing up individuals and knowing what their strengths would be."
Wilson was so modest about himself that most people knew little about his distinguished background prior to joining the University.
Born in Baltimore and raised in New York, he graduated from City College of New York. He always wanted to fly, but as a child was not aware of any black pilots. His chance came during World War II.
After rigorous academic and physical training, Wilson was deployed in Europe as a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the all-black 332nd Fighter Group known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The group, which flew fighter patrols or escorted bombers on missions, became the only group never to lose an escorted bomber to enemy fighters. Yet on the bases and after returning home, they still experienced segregation.
Wilson flew 62 missions, primarily in Italy, and shot down four German fighter planes. He later served as a reserve officer in Korea and Vietnam, retiring from the service in 1968.
He achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and received a number of medals for his World War II service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Bronze Star. He earned more medals as a combat pilot in Vietnam.
He was modest about his accomplishments: "I don't think we were heroes," he said in a 1996 interview. "We were proud to do this job."
A poem, "Porter," in Professor Marilyn Nelson's collection, The Homeplace, is dedicated to Wilson. It memorializes an incident when, despite being dressed in uniform and being decorated with medals, an elderly white woman asked Wilson to carry her bags. After he had done so, she offered him a tip: "He looks down. Then he looks at me and grins. I TOOK it, too!"
Wilson is survived by two daughters, Patricia Coker-Wilson, state Social Services Commissioner, and Valerie Wilson Wesley of Montclair, N.J., and their families. His wife, Mary, died in 1987.
A memorial service was held July 21 at Eastern Connecticut State University. Wilson will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in August.