My Boss the President
Pastor Neal C. Wilson knew me before I knew him. We met on the campus of Andrews University, where I had recently arrived from India to teach at the Theological Seminary. I saw Pastor Wilson approaching, but before I could introduce myself he stretched out his hand and said, “Hello, Bill. It’s lovely to meet you.”
That quality of warm interest in people is my strongest and most abiding memory of the late General Conference president. He knew the names of thousands of people from around the globe, greeting them as he first greeted me, often enquiring after their spouse and children also by name.
MEN V. MOUNTAIN: In 1988 Wilson; his son, Ted; and William Johnsson pose with Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. [Photo: GC Archives]
Once I asked him about this amazing recall: did he keep lists of names? No, the only lists were in his head. Although he had a fine memory, he cultivated the ability to focus on people.
I loved my work at the seminary, and thought I would be there until they wheeled me out. But after several years the elder asked me to visit him in Washington. By the time I walked out of his office he had won me over: our family would move to church headquarters, and I would connect with the Adventist Review.
We worked together for almost the entire period of his presidency. When after two years I was appointed editor in chief, our association became even closer. He was my boss—and much more. I looked up to him, admired him, sought his counsel. He had a big mind, one that dreamed big things for the global Adventist family. He encouraged and affirmed me.
What was it like to have as boss the General Conference president? An honor and a privilege. He dressed and lived simply, treating everyone he met as an equal. No one’s problem was too little or the person too insignificant to be passed by. Anyone who could get his ear was assured a respectful and thoughtful hearing. He had a burning passion for justice and fairness.
I don’t recall his ever looking at his watch. We’d be together in his office, maybe over a brown-bag lunch, and his secretary would open the door and remind him that he was already 30, 45, or 60 minutes behind schedule. But not once did he cut short the conversation.
After he left the president’s office, he worked out of a tiny space in the General Conference building, serving as elder statesman, a wise and grand old man of Adventism. His door was always open, and I frequently passed through it.
Pastor Neal C. Wilson—I miss him. I am grateful to the Lord for him. And I look forward to that day when I shall see him again.