Charles Byron Wilson, MD
Charles Byron Wilson, 88, beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, teacher, and world-renowned neurosurgeon, died peacefully on February 24, 2018 after a long illness.
Dr. Wilson, known far and wide as Charlie, was dubbed the "Baryshnikov of Brain Surgery" in a profile by the SF Chronicle. In a 1999 profile in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell explored the "The Physical Genius" of Charlie, Yo Yo Ma, and Wayne Gretzky. Gladwell was particularly fascinated by Charlie's uncanny ability to perform the most delicate of brain surgeries with "a distinctive fluidity and grace."
Charlie was born in Neosho, Missouri in 1929. He attended Tulane University and Tulane Medical School, graduating first in his class in 1954. He joined the Tulane Faculty with joint appointments in Pathology and Neurosurgery, where he served for several years. In 1961, he accepted an appointment at Louisiana State University Medical School, winning the Best Teacher Award in 1963, before moving to the newly formed School of Medicine at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, establishing their Division of Neurosurgery.
In 1968, he joined the faculty of the University of California, San Francisco, where he served as Professor and Chair of Neurological Surgery for 28 years, and founding director of the Brain Tumor Research Center. Widely known for his calm demeanor and exacting standards in the operating room, he performed thousands of surgeries over the years, becoming known world-wide for his expertise in the areas of pituitary disorders and aneurysms. Part Cherokee Indian, he was well known for encouraging the entry of women and underrepresented minorities into neurosurgery training.
A man who never stopped learning, Charlie obtained a Masters Degree in Health Administration in 1996. In 1997, after stepping down as Chair of the Department he remained an active surgeon, and became a Director of the Health Care Group at the Institute for the Future making a significant contribution to the publication "The Future of Health and Health Care." He later became a Senior Advisor with the Health Technology Center, working on the adoption of new technologies in health care, and served as Consultant to the President of the University of California on health services issues.
In 2000, he co-founded - along with his dear friend, the Reverend William Rankin - the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), a secular nonprofit that delivers innovative healthcare programs in resource-deprived Africa.
Charlie was an accomplished jazz pianist and lover of music, frequently attending the opera and symphony. It is an understatement to say he was passionate about fitness, and spent many happy hours running to the top of his beloved Mt. Tam and competing in multiple marathons around the country.
Charlie loved life. He was a good friend. He had a keen wit, an infectious laugh, a wildly generous heart, and wonderfully pronounced ears.
Preceded in death by his son, Craig Wilson, he is survived by his wife of 24 years, Francie Petrocelli; his daughter Rebecca Cohn (Steve); his son Byron Wilson (Suzette); his stepdaughter, Kathryn Petrocelli; his grandchildren Ben, Josh, Brittany, Adam, Ian and Dylan; and a multitude of loving friends and colleagues.
A celebration of his remarkable life will be held at St Stephen's Episcopal Church, 3 Bayview Avenue, Belvedere, CA on Sunday, March 11th @ 2pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), 2171 Francisco Blvd. East, Suite I, San Rafael, CA 94901, www.thegaia.org
, or Tulane University School of Medicine, 1430 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Mar. 2 to Mar. 9, 2018.