Neal Wilson – ‘Mentor,’ ‘Man of Vision,’ and ‘Daddy’ – Remembered at World Headquarters Service
Hundreds attend memorial for former world church leader
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor, Adventist Review
Neal Clayton Wilson, an 11-year president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, was remembered at a January 19, 2011 memorial service as one whose “magnificent obsession” was “the blessed hope of Jesus’ return for His children.”
FAMILY TRIBUTE: Dr. Shirley Wilson Anderson, left, a professor at Walla Walla University, and Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, right, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, speak at a January 19, 2011, memorial service for their father, former G.C. president Neal C. Wilson, who passed away December 14, 2010. [Photos: Ansel Oliver/ANN]
Wilson, who served as G.C. president from 1979 to 1990 and was instrumental in the expansion of Adventist World Radio, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), and of the church in the former Soviet Union, died Dec. 14, 2010, at the age of 90, following a long illness. His wife, Elinor, survives as do two sisters, a brother, a son, a daughter, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“He was a man of great talent and ability,” said Francis Wernick, a retired world church general vice president. “When he was first elected Columbia Union president he said, ‘You’ll always know where I stand.’ He gave us strong leadership.”
Wernick was one of 14 Adventist leaders or Wilson family members who paid tribute to Neal Wilson in front of a live congregation of more than  500 at the world headquarters. Hope Church Channel, one of the Hope Channel networks, carried the service, which could also be viewed on the Internet.
“This is not a time when we give death an opportunity to reign over us,” declared Charles D. Bradford, who followed Wilson as a president of the North American Division. “Neal Wilson has conquered all through his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
Throughout the two-and a half hour event, speaker after speaker noted Neal Wilson’s dedication to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, one that dominated his decades of service to the movement. As the child of missionaries, a missionary himself, and as a conference, union, division, and world church leader, Wilson’s focus on the proclamation of the Three Angels’ Messages – the texts in the 14th chapter of Revelation which presage Jesus’ return – was paramount.
His many examples of leadership were also a popular theme.
He “stood as a tower of righteousness in a desert of despair and he brought hope to our hearts,” said C.D. Brooks, whom Wilson called to be  a union conference evangelist. Brooks said Wilson was loved in the African-American community for his stand against racism and for reconciliation within the Adventist movement.
BIBLICAL HOPE: Pastor C.D. Brooks, former Columbia Union evangelist under then-union president Neal C. Wilson, offers words of comfort and hope during memorial service.
Neal Wilson “was extremely supportive of his division presidents,” said Jan Paulsen, a former Trans-European Division president and later a General Conference president. “He supported them and let them get on with their business,” Paulsen added, noting his admiration for “the openness with which [Wilson] tried to relate to people. I thank God for the example he gave me.”
Wilson “didn’t just encourage evangelism,” said Robert S. Folkenberg, Sr., who followed him as G.C. president, “he did it.” Folkenberg recalled Wilson’s willingness to go to Panama and present an evangelistic series, while serving as achurch administrator . He also noted that Wilson had worked, while the former Soviet Union was still constituted, to unite the disparate Adventist branches that formed in the wake of the 1917 Revolution, making possible the establishment of a publishing house and seminary there.
“God used this man in a remarkable, remarkable way,” Folkenberg added.
Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor to Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, said he and his wife would remember Wilson’s “dignity, kindness and loving care of others,” calling these “hallmarks of a life well-lived.”
Retired Adventist Review editor William Johnsson, who joined Wilson as part of the group of six Adventists who scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 1988, said Wilson “was one of the outstanding leaders of this church. His mind was like an encyclopedia.”
TRIBUTE: Pastor Charles E. Bradford, a former North American Division president, offered words of tribute to his colleague.
The many tributes to Neal Wilson the administrator and leader were complimented by moving tributes to Neal Wilson the family man, father and grandfather. The Wilson grandchildren, who were able to be present, each read a scripture passage; daughter Shirley Wilson Anderson, a professor at Walla Walla University, recalled many attributes of her father, including his trust in God, trust of people and his athleticism and encouragement to her and her son.
“Our parents were wonderful parents, and we were blessed to grow up in a Christian home,” said Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, Neal’s son and current General Conference president. Noting the strong faith he and his father shared in the Biblical teaching about the resurrection of the righteous at the Second Coming of Jesus, Wilson said confidently, “I will see my father again.”

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