Shirley Schaub "Red" Wilson, 95, went to eternal life on Friday, January 8, 2021, at Hospice Home of Burlington, NC, after a long fight with metastatic melanoma.
The only son of John Lee and Georgia Keiger Wilson, Red was born at home near Madison, NC, on September 26, 1925. As a child, Red loved sports, especially baseball. He was lucky enough to own a mitt, a glove, a couple of bats, and several baseballs. The little rural community boys congregated at Red's house to play games, perhaps foreshadowing his competitive athletics future. Red attended Madison High School, where he played three sports: football on a brick-hard dirt field in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball on the same dirt field in the spring.
In addition to his athletic talents, Red was also an excellent student who aspired to become a physician just like four of his uncles. He attended Wingate College as the War broke out, dropped out, and then decided to enroll at UNC-Chapel Hill. Red started as a freshman for the Tar Heels in the fall of 1941 on a war-depleted team. Just three months later, he enlisted in the Navy and drew Corpsman duty, a fitting role for an aspiring future doctor. Red received his honorable discharge in June 1946 as a Pharmacist's Mate, Second Class, and immediately sought to take advantage of the GI Bill. He headed to Chapel Hill but quickly realized it might be tough to earn a spot since over 300 gridders were trying to make the team.
Red ended up enrolling at Davidson College, where he could play two sports while also pursuing an elite education that would lead him into medicine. As a Davidson student, he played three years of football and four of baseball. He spent his final year coaching the freshman football team as his football eligibility had expired. All it took was coaching one football season to persuade Red that his calling was to be a coach, and the rest was history.
While at Davidson, Red met Katie Francis in 1947. They married the next year on January 17, 1948, and became inseparable for life. Together he and Katie raised three children, all of whom he was immensely proud. He was lucky enough to coach their oldest, John, and help him earn a football scholarship to NC State. He was elated to watch his daughter, Cathy, follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in teaching and mentoring young people. And finally, he was proud to see his youngest, Steve, earn his Eagle Scout and later work with him as the Duke football team's head manager. In their own way, each of his children followed in Red's footsteps, which was a testament to his inspiring and motivating nature.
Red's official coaching career began in Selma, NC, where he taught and coached at Selma High School. He accomplished two consecutive winning seasons for the school, which were the first wins the school had seen in a while. In 1964, after his first football game of the season in which several touchdowns handily whipped his R.J. Reynolds Black Demons, he urged, "We shall lose no more!" and the team won 11 more games to win the state 4A championship.
It quickly became apparent that Red knew how to win as a coach. He compiled an impressive resume including a women's basketball regional championship in Henderson, NC; football conference championships in Henderson, NC and South Norfolk, VA; two state championships, two runners-up champions, and two playoff berths at Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC; and another runner-up championship at Fayetteville Senior High. His successes didn't stop with football -Red also produced many successful swimming teams at Reynolds. One of the highlights of his early coaching days was his last high school game, the NC-SC Shrine bowl in 1966 when his team scored 35 points, which remains the Bowl's record for the most points ever scored in a single half.
A lifelong learner, Red returned to UNC-Chapel Hill to earn his Master's in Education and later pursued post-graduate work at the University of Colorado. It was his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ that kept Red grounded throughout his professional and academic careers. Red was a devoted Christian who served as an elder at three churches and attended services as long as he was physically able. Whether Red was in school, on the field, or at home, he truly lived the Golden Rule every day.
Red transitioned to coaching at the collegiate level in January 1967 when he became Head Coach and Athletic Director at Elon College. Throughout his ten-year career at Elon, he earned the title of winningest football coach in school history. He went on to join the Duke Blue Devils in 1977 as chief recruiter, quarterback, and head B-team coach. His B-teamers won all their games that first year. Within two years, Red took over as the Blue Devils' head coach. While at Duke, he was able to turn the team around and went on to earn back-to-back winning seasons during his last two years. His final season was especially memorable as the Blue Devils triumphed over ranked opponents, including Tennessee early in the season and UNC at the season's end.
Duke's President, Terry Sanford, next offered Red a position at Duke Medical Center, where he enjoyed an outstanding career in patient relations and fund-raising. Red made such an impact throughout his time at the Medical Center that the University named the Human Performance Laboratory at the Duke Center for Living after him upon his retirement. This gesture was a final tribute to Red for his years of service and helping others.
Although Red achieved great success as a coach and teacher, he was always more than that; he was the ultimate motivator who encouraged everyone to reach beyond their dreams. Whether he was 'coaching' an athletic team, a medical team, or even his own family, his message was the same: always stay positive and do not let failures define you. Red's motivation, hard work, faith, and a fierce belief in others' abilities made it very easy to love and look up to him.
Red's optimistic spirit and winning attitude were gifts to everyone who had the honor of knowing him and led him to many accolades. He was inducted into the NC Sports Hall of Fame, the Davidson College Sports Hall of Fame, the Elon College Sports Hall of Fame, and the R.J Reynolds High School Sports Hall of Fame. He served on the NC. Governor's Council for Physical Fitness. Red received the Alamance County Sports Development Council Distinguished Service Award, the Johnny Vaught Head Coach Award of the All-American Football Foundation, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame's Bill Dooley Chapter Award for Outstanding Contribution to Football. He was awarded an Honorary Life Membership in the NC Football Coaches Association, the Order of the Longleaf Pine by former NC Governor Jim Martin, and the Elon College Medallion.
Red's greatest accomplishment, though, was his family – his beloved wife, Katie, of nearly 73 years; his three children; 6 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. When Katie passed away, he yearned to reunite with her to complete life's great circle.
In addition to his parents and wife, Katie, Red was predeceased by his sister, Beverly Wilson Robertson, and his nephew, Richard Robertson. Surviving are his children, John Wilson (Deborah), Vass, NC, Cathy Wilson Koontz (Craig), Lexington, NC, Steve Wilson (Laura), Richmond, VA; grandchildren, Whitney Wilson-Botts, Erin Wilson, Catherine Koontz Rogers, MD (John), Wilson Koontz, Taylor Wilson (Rainey), and Carolyn Wilson; great-granddaughter, Ainsley Botts; niece, Martha Robertson Martin (Wallace) and four grand-nieces/nephews.
The family invites friends to Rich and Thompson Funeral Home, Burlington, NC, on January 16, 2021, 11:00 am to noon to pay respects and a graveside ceremony at Magnolia Cemetery Elon, NC, at 1 pm. A celebration of Red and Katie's lives will be held later after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the First Presbyterian Church Memorial Fund, 508 W. Davis Street, Burlington, NC 27215, or The S.S. "Red" Wilson Football Scholarship, Elon Phoenix Club, 2500 Campus Box, Elon, NC 27244.
Condolences may be left at firstname.lastname@example.org