Dr. Ben J Wilson, 94, passed away February 14, 2015 after living a robustly full life. Ben was born in Kokomo, IN on September 13, 1920. He was the second of three sons born to Charles Ben and Margorie Gayle Wilson. Ben was raised in Indiana and graduated from Bloomington HS in Bloomington, IN. He then attended Indiana University where he studied medicine eventually graduating medical school in 1944.
During his time at IU Ben won the Balfour award as the Big Ten wrestling champion in his weight class for 1941. In 1943 Ben married his first wife, Elizabeth, while a medical student. After doing an internship and residency at Eloise Hospital in Wayne, MI, Ben served 2 years in the Army as a medical officer in Sendai, Japan and was honorably discharged in 1947. The Wilson family then moved to Dallas, TX where Ben finished his residency at Parkland Hospital.
His medical career blossomed further as Ben became Parkland’s Chief of Surgery and UT Southwestern Medical School’s Chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1952 to 1960. During that period Ben mentored many surgical residents who would eventually become highly acclaimed giants in their profession.
In 1960 Ben moved the family of now four children to Grand Junction, CO to establish a private practice and begin a secondary career as farmer/rancher. Later he would become chief of surgery at St Mary’s Hospital. The family purchased a ranch near Hotchkiss, CO and began to raise registered Angus cattle in addition to growing feed crops.
Traveling to cattle shows to exhibit their high quality stock became a family adventure. In addition the family enjoyed the many fruits that Colorado offered such as snow skiing, camping, fishing, hunting and mountain jeeping. Ben reveled in this element as he was a great outdoor enthusiast and Mother Nature was his calling.
Ben’s medical practice flourished until “retirement” in 1976. He continued to manage his ranch and purchased high mountain acreage with a homesteader cabin for summer cattle grazing. The mountain place with its solitude and natural beauty became his “heaven”. When the ranch was eventually sold, he took up residence at Redstone Castle in Redstone, CO where he was the caretaker/restorer for this manor now in the National Register of Historic Places. During this period Ben took up scuba diving, and later would take trips around the world with the Earthwatch Institute to do scientific research and hone his scuba skills.
The lure of perfect winters with no snow brought Ben to Arizona where he married his wife, Nancy, and purchased a home in the Ahwatukee community of Phoenix. He immersed himself in golf at first, but discovered a much more rewarding avocation in sculpting. Inspired by his artist wife and learning from the best teachers, sculpting quickly became Ben’s next passion. His knowledge of anatomy provided a perfect tool for sculpting human forms and head busts. He did not limit himself to a single media, but worked in bronze, stone and marble. His works can be seen in libraries, Indiana University buildings, and hospitals including Parkland Hospital, Dallas, where his medical career began.
When sculpting became too difficult because of arthritis, Ben turned to writing his memoirs, as this was both a joy for him as well as an activity less dependent upon the body as upon the mind. As with all other endeavors immersion was immediate. A class given in his neighborhood afforded him an association with both teachers and students who shared this passion.
Throughout his life Ben had a great interest in poetry, and family members generally received the gift of one of his poems to celebrate birthdays. Other non-family members who have significantly impacted his life have received these thoughtful, gracious gifts as well. Ben’s love of wrestling remained a thread throughout his life.
As a father and a grandfather he would participate in coaching at the high school level occasionally getting on the mat with boys a fraction his age. Lastly, no summary of Ben’s life is complete without mention of his extreme pride in his country. He would attempt with great enthusiasm to convert anyone who might have expressed a contrary political view. He supported several organizations and was an active participant in all things conservative. To say his life was well lived is gross understatement. He was the epitome of a Renaissance man.
Ben is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons John (Carol, wife), James, and Bill (Rose, wife); daughters Susan, Julie, Jeanne (Donnie, husband) and Kathy; grandchildren Ryan, Renee, Jon, Allison, Jeff, Lindy, Brian, Ashley, and Sarah; great grandchildren Rory, Gabby, Tiffany, Mykala, Sterling, Brennus and Brekin; and great-great grandchildren Mila and Charlotte.
A memorial service will be held at St. James Episcopal Church, 975 E Warner Rd, Tempe, AZ on Sunday, March 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm.
Read Dr. Wilson's biography from The Parkland Foundation's Giants of General Surgery.