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Dick Wilson dead at 80

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Philanthropist Dick Wilson dies at 80

The Wilsons (Courtesy photo)

The remaining half of a Flagstaff couple known for their philanthropy has died.

Richard "Dick" Wilson, 80, died Tuesday following medical evacuation from a family rafting trip down the Colorado River.

Wilson's death came less than two years after wife, Jean, died, on Oct. 4, 2009.

Dick and Jean Wilson were known statewide for boosting organizations benefiting kids, animals, arts and open spaces.

Back in the early 1970s, the pair helped to pack the Skydome with opponents when a developer proposed trams, condos and a golf course on Hart Prairie, said Bob Jensen, the former manager of the nature preserve on Hart Prairie that the Wilsons established.

"Dick is one of those incredible human beings who is pretty much the philanthropist of Flagstaff," Jensen said.

A CAMP FOR INNER-CITY KIDS

The Wilsons created Tohono Chul Park, a 35-acre nature preserve in northwest Tucson, and they founded Camp Colton in 1970 to give inner-city children from Tucson a way to see Flagstaff and nature.

They gave college scholarships to young adults.

They later donated that land to Flagstaff Unified School District.

In 1969, the Wilsons began organizing opposition to commercial ski area development at what is now Arizona Snowbowl, on grounds the ski area would disturb a historic area and interfere with Native American religious beliefs.

Their lawsuit went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case in 1983.

The Wilsons were the primary financial backers for a mobile veterinary clinic, and then for the Second Chance animal shelter in Doney Park.

"So many rich people, they don't do anything with their money," said geologist and colleague Bill Breed. "But Dick and Jean, they just used their money for the best possible things."

SON OF AN OILMAN

Dick Wilson was the son of a Texas oilman.

He met and married Jean in 1952. The family they started spent school years in Tucson and summers on Hart Prairie, said daughter Amanda Wilson.

Dick Wilson held a doctorate in geology, taught geology at the University of Arizona for a time, and helped write a book on the geology of the Grand Canyon, Breed said.

The Wilsons moved to Flagstaff full-time in 1990.

They financially supported the Museum of Northern Arizona, including backing the renovation of the McMillan Homestead across the highway from the museum. The building dates to 1886, said MNA director Robert Breunig.

Dick Wilson was "unfailingly kind," Breunig said.

He was also a nephew of one of the museum's founders, Harold S. Colton.

"He was the last living link that we at the museum had to that generation, of people who founded the museum," Breunig said.

Jean Wilson later became interested in abandoned animals, and Dick joined her, Amanda Wilson said.

"He loved geology. He loved animals. He loved going on small hikes. He loved food. And he liked a really good glass of wine," Amanda Wilson said.

CONSERVATIVE POLITICS

Most surprising to those who didn't know him well were his conservative political leanings, she said, given his high-profile public causes.

"He liked Fox News," Amanda Wilson said.

Dick and Jean Wilson are survived by six children and five grandchildren, including one child they adopted following the Korean War.

The foundations they started to send kids to camp, shelter animals, and more will continue to operate, Amanda Wilson said.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at ccole@azdailysun.com.

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