Art Wilson wore many hats—principal, father-figure, disciplinarian and boss.
But in each of his roles, Wilson preferred not to be heavy-handed. He made himself endlessly available to the staff of New Community while he served as NCC’s board president for 38 years.
As principal of St. Rose of Lima School in Newark, Wilson disciplined his most rambunctious students by sternly lecturing them or keeping a watchful eye over their every move during Saturday detention. His stance was firm, but his motive was always love, according to those who knew Wilson at NCC.
Wilson passed away on Dec. 4, 2015 at the age of 71.
Monsignor William J. Linder, founder of New Community and chairman of the board, recalled that as principal of St. Rose of Lima, Wilson intentionally purchased a home a mere stone’s throw from the school so that he could literally be on-call 24/7 in case a student or staff needed him.
When a fence was built to protect the school grounds, Wilson’s quick jaunt to St. Rose suddenly encountered a detour that caused him to add minutes to his morning stroll.
“He was always mad at me. He never let me forget that,” Monsignor recalled with a smile during a mass celebrating Wilson’s life held at the New Community Extended Care Facility on Dec. 15, 2015.
The Culinary Cafe, where the mass was held, was filled with several rows of NCC staff, Wilson’s family members and residents of the nursing home.
“This is really a mass of thanksgiving for having him in our lives,” said Monsignor, who was the co-celebrant of the mass, along with Father Beatus Kitururu.
Veronica Onwunaka, director of nursing at New Community Extended Care, sent all four of her children to attend St. Rose of Lima, where she said Wilson looked after them, in addition to ensuring their education, as if they were his own children. He treated each student with that same level of devotion and personal investment, Onwunaka said.
“Mr. Wilson was a father figure to the kids,” she said. “His life really needs to be celebrated.”
Wilson’s service to New Community dates back to the very beginning days of the corporation, which emerged out of a group of parishioners at Queen of Angels Church in Newark, led by Monsignor, who was assigned as its pastor in 1963. Monsignor recruited Wilson to serve as the school’s Title I program coordinator.
Later, when Monsignor was assigned to St. Rose of Lima, he recruited Wilson to come on board as the school’s principal and, eventually, Wilson joined. Around that same time, a change in leadership on the New Community board of directors also resulted in Wilson taking the helm.
“He was so easy (going), everyone could work with him. That was his great advantage. He brought people together,” Monsignor said. “It was the best thing for the people who worked for New Community,” Monsignor added.
Wilson’s greatest legacy, arguably, will continue to be seen in the lives of the many St. Rose students that he helped to mold as their principal. Many have gone on to work for New Community in various capacities or serve in fields such as business, nonprofit, medicine and law.
“Young people—they just need someone who has faith in them,” Monsignor said. “What they had was another father or uncle,” he added.
Wilson is survived by his daughter, April Dockery; granddaughters, Sabrina Dockery and Candice Rosa; brother, Parris E. Wilson Jr.; sisters, Gloria W. Davis, Margaret W. Webb, and Bettye W. Ennis, in addition to other relatives and friends.