Dr. Harrison Benjamin Wilson, Jr. died on July 28 surrounded by his family. The former Norfolk State University (NSU) president spent many years of his career in Nashville. The father of six children is survived by his 2nd wife, Dr. Lucy Wilson. His grandson is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and his first cousin was former TSU football coaching great John Merritt, who died in 1983. A Celebration of Life Service is set for Saturday, August 3, on the campus of Norfolk State.
Born the fifth of seven siblings in Amsterdam, New York on April 21, 1925, his mother Marguerite Ayers Wilson was a school teacher and his father Harrison Benjamin Wilson, Sr. worked in construction. Wilson served in the US Navy from 1945 until 1947, when he enrolled at Kentucky State University. There he was an honor student, star athlete in basketball, football, baseball and track, and joined his mother’s sister’s son, John Ayers Merritt on the 1948 pledge line of the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and earned his bachelors degree. Wilson earned his M.A. and D.H.S. in health science and administration from Indiana University.
Wilson served as a basketball coach at Jackson State University from 1951 – 1967, and his lifetime coaching record was 340 – 72. His love for sports was passed to later generations, including Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who tweeted: “Going to miss you Grandpa. This is my Grandfather whose no longer with us. Dr. Harrison B. Wilson Jr. He was an educator, a mentor, a college basketball coach, and the second President at Norfolk State University a HBCU from 1975-1997. Love you. #BeholdTheGreenandGold”
Nashville was his home for almost a decade. In 1967 he was recruited to become chairman and professor of health and physical education at Tennessee State University in Nashville, and also later worked in other capacities at TSU. He was Director of Cooperative Education at TSU in 1972, when this author was a student of his and worked at Union Carbide Laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee while a sophomore electrical engineering major. Wilson also worked at Fisk University, as assistant to the President of Fisk, before being named President of NSU in 1975.
For 22 years – from 1975 to 1997 – Wilson guided NSU to a university that by 1996-97 offered 14 master’s programs and a doctoral program. During his tenure as president, The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) at NSU produced the largest number of minority naval officers in the nation, and NSU graduated more African-American teachers than any other university in the nation. When he retired from NSU in 1997, the school named its administrative building in his honor.
A public memorial service will be held Saturday, August 3 at 3 p.m. in the Douglas Wilder Center at Norfolk State University. In lieu of flowers, you are asked to please make a tax-deductible gift to the Norfolk State University Foundation. In the memo section, please write Harrison B. Wilson Endowment.
*Order of Service for The Celebration of Life for Dr. Harrison B. Wilson, Jr.
L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center, Norfolk State University — 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Lying in State; 2:15–3 p.m. Final Stroll with the Green and Gold; processional of Dr. Wilson and the Spartan Legion Band along the perimeter of NSU; 3 p.m. Celebration of Life Service
Watch Live: The Celebration of Life Service at 3:00 p.m. Saturday, August 3 -Follow this link: www.nsu.edu/live-stream
*All times Eastern