A Physician's Life Well Lived
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Rare are the lives that are lived so fully and exceptionally that they defy appropriate description. Dr. Robert O. Wilson Jr. who died Saturday, Jan. 29 in his Fresno home surrounded by family, lived such a life.
Over his 39-year career as an OB-GYN, Dr. Bob delivered more than 10,000 babies. Helping his patients to start new families never failed to give him immense joy, yet nothing made him prouder or happier than his own family. He is survived by his wife, Faith Wilson; sons Marc Wilson and Timothy Wilson (wife Pamela); daughters Emily Wilson and Mallory McAleese (husband Garrett); sisters Elizabeth Hissing and Marjorie Garrett (husband Steve); and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Bob was born to Marjorie and Dr. Robert Wilson Sr. on July 25, 1948, in Altadena and grew up in Arcadia. As a teenager, Bob tagged along with his dad on hospital rounds and was inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps to pursue a career in medicine.
Bob earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Linfield College and a master's degree in biochemistry at UC Riverside. After working for a year at the City of Hope National Medical Center, he attended medical school at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, earning his medical degree in 1977.
Bob knew well the legendary medical service his father had performed overseas in 1937 during the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, China. Robert Sr. was the only surgeon who stayed in Nanjing and worked round the clock to help the Chinese people, who he considered his people. In the days after Bob Jr.'s death, the Memorial Hall honored both father and son in a letter to the family, writing in part:
“As the son of Robert Wilson Sr., Mr. Robert O. Wilson Jr. was our family and
respected friend. He visited Nanjing many times, attended the National Memorial Ceremony for Nanjing Massacre Victims, and donated Mr. Robert Wilson Sr.’s medical notes and other precious historical relics to the Memorial Hall, which made positive contributions to the spread of the historical truth of the Nanjing Massacre and the concept of peace.”
As Bob built his OB-GYN practice in Fresno, he followed the medical and ethical guidebook provided by the example of his father. Trained in internal medicine as well as in obstetrics and gynecology, Bob believed in treating the whole patient, which always started with listening. He saw each and every patient personally — for four decades — and never let the clock get in the way of a visit.
Never forgetting the heroic missionary service his father performed in China, Bob, who was bilingual, went on medical missions twice a year to Sinaloa, Mexico to treat patients. As a member of the Flying Doctors of Mercy (Liga), Bob was always proud to carry on his father’s tradition of putting his gifts to work for those most in need.
In his own practice, Bob was known for his “cool-under-fire” demeanor and for always demanding, in no uncertain terms, that his fellow doctors treat every member of the medical staff with equal respect.
In September 2020, Bob was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a terminal cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Even as the disease wracked his body, he continued to see patients and kept his practice going while undergoing chemotherapy treatments every three weeks. In December 2021, after three days in the hospital, Bob reluctantly agreed to close his practice. He had hoped to continue working until July 2022, but by the middle of December, he could barely walk unassisted.
Upon news of his retirement, dozens of patients and colleagues wrote and posted letters of love and gratitude. The words of Norma Uragami, who assisted in the front office, were representative of the sentiments of so many others:
“Dr. Wilson, you’ve shaped our community in ways that will live well beyond you. Over the past several decades, the women you’ve treated, saved, cured, delivered their babies, consoled, taught, etc. — the list goes on — are all indebted to you. The outpouring of love and appreciation are all a testament to YOU.”
Many of the families Bob treated stretched across three generations. His focused listening, soothing bedside manner and confident, exceptional care kept everyone coming back. In so many letters to their beloved doctor, “irreplaceability” is the common thread. A patient named Diana wrote:
“Dr. Wilson, I was blessed to have had you as my doctor for almost 20 years. You were the most down to earth, honest, ‘old school’ doctor I have ever known — with a heart of gold. You brought my two angels into this earth and helped me grieve the one baby who was not to be. May God keep you and hold you tight as his new Angel doctor in heaven.”
Another patient expressed:
"You were with me during my happiest moments. Photos of you holding my newborn girls are in our most cherished photo albums — and you were smiling, too. Holding our girls up like a trophy, celebrating the moment with us. My sister and I have affectionately referred to you as 'Willy' over the years, and talked about you like an extension of our family.”
Bob looked at them the same way. His patients, nurses and fellow doctors were extensions of his own family. But as excellent an OB-GYN as Dr. Bob was, his wife and kids explain why he was an even finer father.
"Dad lives with class and loves adventure," said Marc Wilson, Bob's eldest son. "He puts others before himself. He taught me to fight and never give up.
His first daughter, Emily, speaks of the powerful example that Bob always set:
“I have found myself to be more similar to my Dad than I ever thought. I resonate with how he does things, how his mind operates. I will allow that to guide me now as I continue in this world without him. I will honor and remember his kind heart, caring words, and easy-going nature.”
Emily’s brother Tim loved and admired their father in much the same way:
“My Dad somehow accomplished it all: a successful career, happy family, and balanced lifestyle. However, his real achievement was his continued humility and selflessness throughout his life. It was an honor to take care of him at the end because he had taken care of me my whole life, as well as countless others. The world is a little darker without Dad here, so for those who knew him it is our responsibility to be more caring, open-minded, and respectful than ever before.”
At a party in 1988, Bob met Faith, the love of his life. And she did, too — only it would take a while before either of them realized it. A dozen years later, Faith called Bob up and asked him to lunch. Three years after that, they married in Shandon, California, in the same Methodist church where Bob’s grandfather served as pastor in 1937. The two have been cruising down an expressway of laughs and adventure ever since.
Their routine was one of love and respect. Bob took joyful pride in gardening and cooking. Every night after work, his ritual was to start outside in the vegetable garden and then confect a delicious meal in the kitchen. He called both activities his therapy.
On weekends, Bob would take a 40 to 50-mile bike ride. Once in a while Faith would join him, and do her best to keep pace. On other days, Bob played golf with his close friend Ralph, and they laughed incessantly about their poor play. Bob also enjoyed shooting sporting clays, fishing, off-roading, and being outdoors with his family and their dogs.
Faith encouraged Bob to take up SCUBA diving, but the prospect of any new adventure for Bob didn’t take much persuasion. The itinerary of their dive destinations reads like an extended vacation brochure: Honduras, Grand Cayman, Hawaii, Mexico, Bonaire, Indonesia, among others — and just about every town up and down the California coast.
Bob, couldn’t say “no” to Faith. He adored her, just as his Faith revered him. She describes Bob as the most universally loved person she has even met and has zero doubt in her mind that God sent him directly to her:
“Bob was the most incredible listener and always saw the best in people. He taught me how to live in the present and not to waste a single ’beautiful day.’ He made all of my days beautiful, even the difficult ones.”
When Faith and Bob started dating, Faith’s daughter Mallory was just six. But very soon, Mallory came to love Bob as her father. And he felt exactly the same way. After his passing, Mallory posted a long letter about her Dad, including these final words:
“One of the last things he told me was: ‘Enjoy your life and teach your children to be good people.’ I will live by those words. Bob, I love you forever. Thank you for being my Dad.”
Dr. Robert Wilson lived those words all the days of his life, and like his father before him, he has passed down an immortal legacy of love, care, generosity and integrity.
We will love you forever. Rest in peace.
A remembrance will be held on Saturday, February 26 at 9 a.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Hinds Hospice (hindshospice.org)