A longtime educator, pioneer in her field and advocate for children and people suffering from mental illness, Constance "Connie" P. Wilson was modest and self-effacing, according to friends and family. Yet she did not shy away from voicing her opinions.
Mrs. Wilson, who was instrumental in starting the University of Kentucky graduate program in the College of Social Work, died about 5:30 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph Hospital. She was 86.
Mrs. Wilson was the first woman elected as a faculty trustee on UK's Board of Trustees, serving three terms. She also was the first woman to be elected chair of the UK Senate Council, in 1977. And she was the first female faculty member inducted in the UK Chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa.
"For many women, Connie Wilson was a tremendously important role model because she showed young women ... if you work hard you can do it all," said Kay Hoffman, former dean in UK's College of Social Work.
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Mrs. Wilson was a professor and graduate studies director in the college from 1979 until 1997. She served 43 years as a social work professor.
Hoffman said Mrs. Wilson pressured the state government to help mentally disabled people and "did more to create and develop the mental health system in Kentucky than anybody did."
"At one time, Kentucky had a wonderful model, and it was Connie Wilson and her colleagues who made that happen," Hoffman said.
Mrs. Wilson was founder of the Central Kentucky Mental Health Association, which incorporated Kentucky's first regional mental health board in 1965.
Mrs. Wilson was a advocate for children and for the establishment of the Kentucky Child Welfare Department. She became one of the founders of the Kentucky Child Welfare Foundation.
She was also an amazing Italian cook, said her son Warren Wilson. She once held a fund-raiser for nearly 200 people in support of Harvey Sloane, who ran for mayor in Louisville, impressing guests with her fried artichokes. Mrs. Wilson also organized fund-raisers for the Newman Center, Hospice of the Bluegrass and CompCare, Warren Wilson said.
Gretchen Brown, president of Hospice of the Bluegrass, was a student in the social work college at UK. She said Mrs. Wilson was an inspiration to women interested in policy and leadership and administrative positions.
"I really admired her for her political astuteness and her skill and her willingness to mentor women like myself," Brown said.
Hoffman said she often called Mrs. Wilson for advice, although Hoffman arrived at the university in 1998, just after Mrs. Wilson retired.
"She was not shy to give her opinion," Hoffman said. "She told me exactly what she thought of what I might be doing or what others might be doing."
Mrs. Wilson is survived by her husband, P. David Wilson, and three children, Warren Wilson of New York City, Wayne Wilson of Lexington and Paul Wilson of Versailles. She was preceded in death by another son, Dwight Wilson of Lexington.
Visitation will be 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Harrodsburg Road. Services will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the UK Newman Center.