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David K. “Pat” Wilson, former chairman and life member of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust whose personal and family influence and generosity are evidenced in nearly all areas of the university, died Sunday at home. He was 87.
“Pat Wilson was a towering leader in our city,” said Martha R. Ingram, chairman of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust. “He was one of the founders of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and he loved Vanderbilt University with all his heart.”
Wilson, a 1941 graduate of Vanderbilt, was elected to the Board of Trust in 1963 and served as its chairman from 1981 to 1991 at a time when Vanderbilt achieved significant growth.
“It would be impossible to overstate Pat Wilson’s impact on Vanderbilt, and on Nashville,” said Chancellor Gordon Gee. “His commitment to the university touched, literally, every corner and every aspect of this campus, from buildings to scholarships to faculty chairs.
“Pat Wilson’s leadership and wisdom made possible the Vanderbilt of today, and will ensure our continued success for generations to come. I am personally grateful for his wise counsel, and on behalf of the entire Vanderbilt community offer my deepest sympathies, affection and appreciation to his family and many friends.”
When Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt announced in 1991 upon Wilson’s retirement as board chairman that the College of Arts and Science’s new psychology building would be called David K. Wilson Hall, Wyatt said, “His generosity is felt across the university through the thoughtful application of funds. Pat Wilson’s contributions have had an impact on virtually every segment of this university.”
He had a role in every major Vanderbilt fund-raising effort in the past four decades. From 1970 to 1974, Wilson chaired the Harold S. Vanderbilt Challenge, which raised $10 million. From 1976 to 1981, he chaired the Centennial Campaign, which started out with a goal of $150 million and ended up raising $181 million. He served on the steering committee of the 1990s Campaign for Vanderbilt, which raised more than $560 million and was a member of the planning committee for the current Shape the Future campaign.
After graduating from Vanderbilt, Wilson, the son of a partner in Nashville’s Fletcher-Wilson Coffee Company, attended Harvard Business School before volunteering a year later for the U.S. Navy during World War II. He served in the Pacific theater in the Naval Construction Battalion.
He returned to Nashville in 1946 and co-founded Cherokee Insurance Company, which evolved into Cherokee Equity Corp. He served as its chairman until his death.
A week before his commissioning by the Navy in 1942, Wilson married Anne Potter, daughter of a distinguished Nashville couple, Justin and Valere Potter. Upon the death of Justin Potter in 1961, half of his substantial estate was used to establish the Justin and Valere Potter Foundation, which over the years has benefited countless charities and organizations, not the least of which has been Vanderbilt University.
Through the Potter Foundation, of which Wilson was a trustee, Blair Academy was established in 1964 and named in honor of Anne Potter’s mother – first as the pre-college music division of George Peabody College and later becoming the 10th school of Vanderbilt University. In addition, Wilson, the Wilson family and the Potter Foundation have endowed faculty chairs in the Blair School of Music, Divinity School, College of Arts and Science, Owen School of Management and School of Nursing. In 1997, Wilson added $1 million to monies he had already given to create the Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Visiting Scholar chair in honor of Vanderbilt’s fourth chancellor.
Hundreds of students have gone to the medical school on Potter Scholarships and to the law school on a scholarship named for Wilson’s son Patrick, who died in an automobile accident before he was to have entered Vanderbilt Law School. Both scholarships were endowed by the Wilson family.
Also receiving Wilson’s support was the university library.
Wilson was instrumental in the founding of the Owen School, leading the effort to raise a $6 million endowment to establish the school and donating the property, a funeral home on West End Avenue, that would become the school’s first home.
He also supported campus beautification efforts, including the designation in 1988 of the university as a National Arboretum. The Potter Foundation provided the seed money for the Vanderbilt TV News Archives.
One of Wilson’s most recent Vanderbilt endowments was a chair in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in memory of his first wife, who died in 1986.
In addition to chairing the Board of Trust for 10 years, Wilson served as a member of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association Board of Directors and chairman of the Medical Center Board and the Board of Trust Management Committee.
During the decade Wilson led the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, the campus expanded to include the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt Clinic, the Free-Electron Laser Center, the Kim Dayani Health Promotion Center, the first Medical Research Building, the Student Recreation Center and Management Hall, the current home of the Owen Graduate School of Management. Also during his term, major renovations occurred to Kirkland Hall, Old Central/Benson Science Hall and eight residence halls.
Wilson was a Nashville community leader, having served on the boards of the Cumberland College Board of Trust, Montgomery Bell Academy and the Traveller’s Rest Museum. He was a former president of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and of Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art and served on the Metro Airport Authority. He helped found Leadership Nashville. He was honored with the 1998 United Way Alexis de Tocqueville Society Volunteer of the Year Award. Nationally, he served as a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a member of the president’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a trustee of the Robert A. Taft Institute of Government, chairman of the Republican National Finance Committee and co-finance chairman of Lamar Alexander’s 1996 presidential campaign.
“Pat was one of the originators of the Tennessee Performing Arts Foundation which lead to the creation of TPAC, so I worked very closely with him over a period of 35 years,” Ingram said. “He knew so many people in the city and across the state. It was Pat who brought to the TPAC effort Dr. Athens Clay Pullias of Lipscomb College, Scotty Probasco in Chattanooga, and Dr. Andy Holt at the University of Tennessee – none of whom I would have known, were it not for Pat Wilson.
“He gave wise counsel to generations of Vanderbilt chancellors and board chairmen. He connected Vanderbilt with the community, and the community with Vanderbilt. His fingerprints are all over the campus – from the Law School to the Blair School of Music. He was passionate in supporting both students and faculty, in the college as well as the graduate schools.”
Survivors include his wife, Paula R. Wilson; and three sons, Justin Wilson, William Wilson and Blair Wilson, all of Nashville.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. May 23 at First Presbyterian Church of Nashville. Visitation will precede the funeral from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Cheek House, next to the church.
Media Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS