Pastor Neal C. Wilson, 90, a past president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists known widely for his administrative skill, jovial spirit and phenomenal memory of people he’d met, died December 14, 2010 in Dayton, Maryland, at an assisted living facility, not far from the church headquarters building he helped construct. He was the son of a Seventh-day Adventist leader and the father of another, Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, who is the current world president of the denomination, active in 203 countries.
During 24 years in leadership of the church’s North American Division and later the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, Neal Wilson led the denomination through a period of dynamic growth. World church membership doubled from 3 million to 6 million in the 11 and one-half years (1979-1990) of his presidency. (In 2010, baptized membership of the church stands at more than 16 million, and 30 million globally attend weekly Adventist worship services.)
As world church president, Neal Wilson was responsible for the creation of the Adventist World Radio shortwave service, the adoption of a revised statement of the church’s “Fundamental Beliefs” by delegates to the denomination’s world session in 1980, and the relocation of the church’s world headquarters from Takoma Park, Maryland, where it had been for 85 years, to its current location on a main highway in Silver Spring.
Perhaps the greatest evangelistic accomplishment of the Neal Wilson presidency was in creating a stronger presence for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in what is now the former Soviet Union. In 1987, two years before the fall of Communism, Wilson obtained permission to establish an Adventist seminary and church headquarters in Zaoski, approximately 70 miles southeast of Moscow. In March of 1990, permission was granted to start a religious publishing house there as well.
Neal Clayton Wilson was born on July 5, 1920 in Lodi, California. His father was Nathaniel Carter Wilson; his mother was Hannah Myrtle (Wallin) Wilson; he had two brothers, Bruce and Donald Wilson; and two sisters, Clarice Woodward and Ruth Murrill. In 1942, after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at church-owned Pacific Union College, he married Elinor Esther Neumann, who survives. The couple had two children, Ted N.C. Wilson and Shirley Wilson-Anderson, a professor of health at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington, both of whom also survive, as do four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Neal Wilson’s parents spent their lives ministering for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Indonesia, North America, Africa, Southern Asia, and the South Pacific. Neal and his four siblings early learned to serve God faithfully as they moved and travelled throughout the world during their childhood and teenage years. The three Wilson ministers, father (Nathaniel), son (Neal), and grandson (Ted), all served on the General Conference Committee, the denomination’s highest decision-making body. Each of the Wilsons has served as an officer of the General Conference and each has been president of a division of the world church – a unique circumstance in Adventist history.
A man of many interests, Neal Wilson particularly savored mountain climbing. One of his dreams for over 50 years became reality when he and several other church leaders reached the 19,341-foot summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in 1988. At 68 years of age, he was noted as one of the oldest persons to have reached the top.
After retirement as General Conference president in 1990, Wilson remained a valued guest at church leadership events, taking to a microphone on the floor to offer comments and guidance based on his experiences. Both of his immediate successors, pastors Robert Folkenberg, Sr., and Jan Paulsen, often acknowledged Wilson’s expertise and helpful comments.
A private interment will be held this week. Memorial services will be held Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the world headquarters building in Silver Spring, Maryland. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to: Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Adventist Heritage Ministry, Adventist World Radio or Christian Record Services for the Blind.