Obituaries » Harrison B. Wilson, Jr.

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Harrison B. Wilson, Jr.

April 21, 1925 - July 28, 2019


Norfolk (VA) Alumni Chapter

Chapter of Initiation: Alpha Upsilon (1948)


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Dr. Harrison B. Wilson II, former president of Norfolk State University, has passed from this life after 94 fulfilling years. Many knew Dr. Wilson for his lifetime of organizational leadership, not only during his tenure at Norfolk State, but for his broader contributions to the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond. Dr. Wilson always explained his life in the context of his past, positing that his achievements were rooted long before his birth on April 21, 1925. His grandmother taught school to the formerly enslaved in the years after the Civil War. Marguerite Ayers, his beloved mother, carried on this tradition by impressing the value of education upon Harrison and his four brothers and sisters. With all his accomplishments, he conceived of himself as a link within a longer chain of past and future; of triumphs, setbacks, and continuous learning.

President of Norfolk State University from 1975-1997, Dr. Wilson professional and community successes seem unbounded. In 1946, after service in the United States Navy during World War II, Dr. Wilson enrolled in Kentucky State University, just miles from where his mother and father were born. There, he would receive the familial and educational support that would launch a lifetime of accomplishment. In college he pledged to the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., and thrived as a member of the Thoroughbreds basketball team. After graduating with high honors in 1950, Dr. Wilson carried his Kentucky State education further, pursuing his PhD at Indiana University while serving as head basketball coach at Jackson State University. While coaching in Jackson, he earned his doctorate of education, accomplished a coaching record of 365 wins and 74 losses, and birthed four boys with his first wife, Anna Williams. Their four sons, Benjamin, Harrison, John and Richard, would grow up on the campus of Jackson State, surrounded by the atmosphere of the historically black institution that their father helped grow.

When his first wife, Mrs. Anna (Williams) Wilson, passed away in 1967, Dr. Wilson persevered through a world of heartache, leaning on friends and family for support. He was blessed to later meet Dr. Lucy Cutliff, who with her beloved daughter Jennifer, would eventually fill the monumental role of mother in the Wilson household. They later shared in the birth of a daughter, April.

Dr. Wilson believed deeply in the worth and potential of the schools for which he served. While at Norfolk State, he accomplished university status for what was then Norfolk State College. He increased the number of African American students pursuing STEM fields at the institution. He recruited highly qualified faculty and established mentoring programs to ensure that his students were equipped with the tools for graduation. Dr. Wilson expanded the university’s facilities, maintaining positive relationships with state government to expand university resources. He served on the Board of Directors of Bell Atlantic Virginia, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, and the Commonwealth Ethics Committee. He received honorary doctorate degrees from the Eastern Virginia Medical School and Kentucky State University. In 2014, Dr. Wilson travelled to Lexington, Kentucky to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky with his grandson, Brandon, who received his Masters. Significantly, the University used the occasion as an apology for decades of discriminatory and segregationist admissions policies against African Americans like Wilson.

Of course, Dr. Wilson defined himself beyond the realm of professionalism. He was a father to six, grandfather to eight, and great grandfather to three. Those closest to him experienced his fantastic capacity for storytelling and oral history, his sense of humor, his wisdom. True to form, Dr. Wilson spent his final days teaching – telling family histories to his children and grandchildren, offering academic and professional advice to those who called on him, peppering in his clever sense of humor. Until his death on July 28, 2019, Dr. Wilson was treasured as a community leader and educator, indispensable to the history of the Hampton Roads, Virginia, and beyond.

Eastern Province

The Eastern Province, as a defined region of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., traces its origin to 1925. Earl B. Dickerson, the fifth Grand Polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi, appointed John Miller Marquess the first Eastern Province Polemarch following the adjournment of the 15th Grand Chapter Meeting in December 1925.

PO Box 6147, Williamsburg,Virginia 23188