Jack Wilson: Called to Delight

Jack Wilson

February 3, 2018

“I’ve devoted a lot of my life to children,” Jack Wilson said. “I was a child,” he continued with a sly grin, “And I’ve never grown up.”

That impish grin turned to sheer delight as he lovingly turned each page of a picture album of second-grade children he tutored at Fulton Elementary in Rockport, Texas, in 1999. Each of the 22 children wrote letters of love and praise and thanksgiving to Jack for helping them.

“I stopped by the school one day and asked if they needed volunteers,” Jack explained. “The teacher said, ‘I can use you,’ and when I asked when, she said, ‘tomorrow.’” That began what John Ruskin, the nineteenth-century critic, called “the duty to delight,” as, clearly, Jack and those kids delighted in one another.

For eight years, until his wife Bernice became too ill to travel, Jack tutored students there all day, every day, for three to four months out of the year. And each day, they competed over who would get to sit next to him during lunch.

In their letters, many of the children thanked Jack not only for helping them but for his relationship with Thoa, a Vietnamese immigrant who spoke no English.

“After three months of working with Thoa every day, we could communicate on many levels. I saw her blossom. And now she’s a doctor!” Jack exclaimed.

Jack’s ability to see Thoa’s promise rather than her language deficiency infused all of the children in that classroom with hope. Perhaps they all imagined a different future, not only for her but for themselves. Clearly, Jack saw the truth of these kids, and in doing so, experienced a sense of mutuality – he returned them to themselves, and they returned him to himself. He treated them with a compassion that stood in awe, instead of judgment, of what they had to carry.“Oh, I loved those kids,” he declared.

That love for kids has informed his life and his giving. Jack chose Charitable Gift Annuities (CGA) as a planned giving vehicle that has provided a steady income stream while enabling him to continue to champion children after his death. The remainder from the four CGAs that Jack established will go into the Jack and Bernice Wilson Endowment at TMF to benefit outreach ministries at Acton United Methodist Church in Granbury and TMF’s Grants Ministry, particularly grants that support disadvantaged children.

Jack Wilson letter

“It’s been a privilege and joy to work with Jack over the years. He’s been as persistent and disciplined in his financial life as in the other areas of his life, whether tutoring or sports. And that’s enabled him to pursue life to the fullest and continue to bring joy to others after his death,” commented Candy Gross, TMF senior vice president.

Jack has been moving through life, all 92 years of it, with fullness and a capacity for joy. The “duty to delight” is perhaps a reminder to find God in all things — the sorrows and the joys, both of which he has experienced in abundance. As for sorrows, these include the decline and death of his beloved wife Bernice in 2013 after 62 years of marriage. Jack’s voice still breaks when he speaks of her.

“We hardly knew each other when we got married; we just fell in love after we got married,” he said. “We square danced for 30 years together. We worked as directors for youth programs at church. We did a lot of things together. We fussed and we fought a lot, too. But we loved an awful lot more.”

In the midst of profound sorrow, Jack found joy. “We had a good marriage but I really think I discovered how much I truly loved her when she was sick,” Jack said. During the time she was at a nursing home in Glen Rose, he missed only three days of visiting her due to deaths in the family. And every day he was with her, he regularly visited 20 other residents there.

As with all great love stories, this one is mixed with tragedy. Jack and Bernice endured the greatest loss, suddenly and shockingly, that a couple can experience. Their only child, Jack Jr., a student at the University of Texas, was killed in a plane crash at age 21.

“Bernice and I both died for about two years. We were just dead people walking around,” Jack said. Through that ache, that loneliness for the lost beloved never goes away, Jack has always come down on the side of life.

During his long career with what was then the Insurance Company of North America, Jack and Bernice lived in Macon, Georgia, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth. It was when he was working in Fort Worth that Jack had an opportunity to accept an early retirement package. He and Bernice retired to Pecan Plantation in Granbury. They were active members at Acton UMC and helped found and support mission projects for the disabled and the poor. And Jack continued his mutual delight with children through tutoring three days a week in Granbury schools.

At age 64, Jack took up ice skating after seeing an ad for free lessons in a newspaper. He had always been a strong athlete, but also applied his characteristic mental toughness and rigorous work ethic to his new sport. He entered the state and national competitions and, not surprisingly, began a league for kids. When it was his turn to perform, the children's chorus of “Grandpa Jack! Grandpa Jack!" was so loud the judges had to quiet them before the competition could proceed.

“I really loved ice skating, and I loved those kids,” Jack said. Mutual delight. “I don’t take credit for any of this," Jack insisted. "God gave me the means, the opportunity, the drive, the ability, the talent – and that’s who gets the credit. I used to think that was me pulling myself up by my bootstraps – and so could anyone else. I was wrong.”

Jack puts flesh on the bones of words like compassion and love, and he wants to encourage others to experience the “duty to delight.”

“TMF, Candy, my niece Sharon, who has helped enormously with my estate plan, and I have created a winning team to maximize resources for the good of all,” observed Jack. “Just think how many Thoa’s there are in the world to delight in.”

A charitable gift annuity offers a tax-advantaged way to provide for income during retirement and establish a legacy gift to support ministries and causes important to you. Contact Justin Gould at 800-933-5502 or jgould@tmf-fdn.org to begin a conversation about realizing your charitable goals.