John Ogden Wilson
Born: March 17, 1938 in San Francisco.
Died: December 31, 2013 at home in Martinez, California, age 75.
I have been privileged to know John-
The family outdoors in 1967
Max in the backyard at Emma Drive, Pinole, California, 1960s
In the mountains with Daniel, circa 1960s
“Those were the days! We were all beautiful.” – Helga Wilson
“A beautiful mountain man. Thanks for sharing.” – Sally Saunders
Please check in w/ Mutti as soon as you arrive. She worries.
Also, do the following:
1. Water indoor plants next weekend. (8/7) That’s our bedroom, hanging fern living rm., middle room and kitchen/dining room. Water slowly to avoid over filling saucers.
2. We have a new fire/smoke alarm. Your hallway. See manual.
3. We have a new fire extinguisher. Tall closet in kitchen, lower front corner. Read manual.
4. Outside watering schedule is on the board by the patio door. Dan James says its not as groovy as last year’s, but adequate. He’ll sneak in to insure you keep on schedule. Don’t let him dishonor you.
5. Dan’s turntable is still out of order. My speakers are crackling. Keep the volume down.
6. Crops: Plums, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs. Eat well.
[Left margin addition in Helga’s handwriting:]
Plant in our bathroom, be careful not to get leather chair wet.
Silver Creek Memorial Day Horseshoe Tournament 1990
Silver Creek Memorial Day Horseshoe Tournament 1991
Silver Creek Champs!
John O and a backyard sunflower, circa 1990s
The above picture from the late 1990s shows my father in his garden with a great sunflower, which grew up out of discarded residue of Chinese herbs, following successful treatment for esophageal cancer. His doctors at the time gave his odds of survival at so slim as to be negligible. He decided he was not done with life, and pursued every avenue of treatment available, including Western and Eastern medicine, prayer and Holy Water from Lourdes.
He lived for almost another 17 years. In that time he was able to enjoy his wife, family and friends, his home and garden, and to travel. He was here to experience the devastating tragedy of the death of his younger son, but also here to meet and know several great grandchildren. I know that he was happy to have claimed that nearly two decades of life after his doctors had all but told him he was done.
John O was an amazingly strong, physical man, who loved the outdoors and working with his hands and body along with his mind. He had to contend just the same with ongoing health issues, including other cancers which he fought off. The final cancer got into his lungs and could not be stopped. He was in a steady decline for quite a while, but fortunately not in pain. He did some time in hospitals, which is where he was on Halloween when we got the final word that there was nothing more to be done, and we brought him home into hospice care.
Those last days were very difficult. I am continuing to process this event; one of the most profound experiences of my life. My father died at home with my mother and I there, and his cat and dog. He knew who we were and who he was until the very end, of this I am sure. It will always be one of my saddest joys, that I was there and able to care for my father when he needed me at the end of his life.
– D. A. Wilson, January 2014
Helga and John on their Wedding Day, August 3, 1958
Helga and John’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Party in Oakland, August 2008
“The sweetest two people ever. Awww.” – Sally Saunders
“Yep, my Mom and Dad were quite a pair.” – D. A. Wilson
“Such great memories.” – Kate Blum
Mr. John O. Wilson of California and his Family
“We had many a great afternoon sharing his love of soccer on a field along the Oakland Embarcadero waterfront.” – Bruce Henderson
Brunch at Nut Tree, California, 20th century
The old kitchen at Top of the Hill, Martinez
John O and Amigo
The sound of a door
He’s on his feet in an instant.
Tail poised to wag
Are you coming for me?
Dog of love.
Happy lope along the beach
Head pulled slightly to one side
By the well chewed stick grasped firmly by one end.
Every muscle alert, ready to dash away
Dog of play.
Long heart felt sigh
Noisy shifting of position
To end in the same position
Chin on paws.
Dog of exile.
Dark silent shape against the wall
In the cool sanctuary beneath the table
Stirs slightly to a nocturnal memory
A whimper, a gasp.
Rolls to his back in utter security
Dog of slumber.
Balmy October night
Black and white cat among the fallen apples
Let’s chase this cat up the tree.
Explosion of scent.
Dog of sorrow.
First light of morning
Too early to leave my sleeping bag
Dog sees and advances
Aquiver with love and morning enthusiasm
Incredible tongue finding my unguarded face
Dog of mine.
[In John O’s handwriting, unsigned and undated.]
Amigo and Mo, February 2004
Mo, February 2004
Contra Costa of California, early 21st century
Loud shirt contest, Contra Costa of California
D. A. Wilson, John O. Wilson, Tom Phipps, early 21st century
John O and great-
John O and Juliette, Top of the Hill, February 2004
Helga and John in Bavaria, October 9, 2006
Bavaria, October 2006
Entertaining at The Top of the Hill, 21st century
“I love this pic.” – Marla Powers
“Perfect picture.” – Linda Blum
Top of the Hill, Easter 2011
Top of the Hill with niece Kate Blum
At the soccer field with Nicole Hills
Enjoying his Wedding Anniversary Party, Oakland, August 2008
Typical reaction to one of John O’s jokes
Dancing with Mutti
John O and David at the Teddy Bears Picnic in Memory of Daniel Wilson
Martinez, June 2010
Four generations at Silver Creek, Alpine County, California, July 2011
“One of my most fond John-
“Tim, I understand completely. In honor of John O, this year I’m looking for kids that need some good, clean, toughening up, to hike up to Duck Lake (wherever that may be). If they don't want to walk up the steep slippery mountain to get there, they are still ‘going to Duck Lake if I have to kick you every step of the way!’ ” – D. A. Wilson
John O and great-
Antioch, California, April 2013
Celebrating Logan’s First Birthday
Looking back from the sunset, Top of the Hill, Martinez
Four generations at The Top of the Hill, 2013
Thanksgiving Day, Oakland 2013
John O. Wilson Obituary
John met Helga Roessler on a blind date on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1956. They were married on August 3, 1958 and were only parted by his death at home this New Year’s Eve.
He attended a one room school house in, then, rural El Sobrante, California, and Richmond High School, and college at the University of California, Berkeley. In later years, he earned an MBA from Saint Mary’s College, California. His long distinguished career as a Civil Engineer included management of many important projects, first with Contra Costa County, and the bulk of his career with the Port of Oakland and Oakland International Airport. He served on the City of Martinez Planning Commission for 12 years, and was a founder of the Martinez Regional Land Trust (now the Muir Heritage Land Trust).
He is survived by his wife of more than 55 years, Helga Wilson, by his mother-
John loved outdoor sports, such as soccer, running and whale boat racing. He loved backpacking in the wilderness and exploring the great American West and beyond. He loved his home and the garden he created there, and he truly loved life. He was a good man and will be sorely missed by his family and friends.
“Papa John said, son, the longest way around is the fastest way to get back home.”
– David Nelson, ‘Any Naked Eye’
I'm trapped on a roller coaster
Long slow climb
To the creation of my poem
A portion of my life
(I want to stay on top
To savor the triumph of
This thing I have wrought.)
Funny thing about being on top:
Every direction takes you down
Every view is out
And so against my will, the roller coaster starts downward
My creation becomes a defeat.
A collection of errors
And poor judgements
And “I should have done it better” s.
All set in an environment
Of complicated promises
And empty rewards.
Down I plunge, gathering momentum
Growing hatred for my self
And my latest work
A pain that effects not only me
But all others in my world as well.
I reach out for help
And push away a friend
Or pull him momentarily in with me
And then see him flee in terror
That he may contract the infection.
Roller coaster reaches bottom now
100 M.P.H. depression
(I don’t know this is bottom
It may be only half way down.
If we derail at this speed it will kill me.)
My creation is behind me now
Accomplishment, satisfaction, triumph
All that remains is the panic
My God, what if we derail?
What you need is a new project.
A new goal.
Big enough to cover the ashes.
(From the bottom you can see things on all sides)
And so the process starts again
Picking up ideas
Turning them around
Trying to see their other side
What happens when I finish
And start down?
All the while knowing it doesn’t matter.
The roller coaster is in me.
Not in the idea.
This state cannot endure
Not at 100 M.P.H.
A project is chosen
I commence work
At 100 M.P.H.
Up, up, up the back side of the roller coaster
Wounds from the last descent are healing now.
All except an occasional and fleeting memory
Of the top
And the plunge down
Quickly put aside.
How much higher can I climb?
Each decent takes me lower and faster
100 M.P.H. last time.
Hard to control at 100 M.P.H.
I only need to lose it once
And so ends the ride.
Vincent van Gogh took the ride
Kept losing it at the bottom.
One time he cut off his ear.
Another time he shot himself.
(That was the last time)
When he was up he was very creative.
A painting a day.
But he lost that before the end.
Maybe when he cut off his ear.
It’s hard to be productively creative
Once you start cutting off your ear.
Some never get on the roller coaster at all.
Finish life with both ears.
No triumphs, satisfactions, accomplishments.
Never experience that wild ride.
Cream of wheat.
There must be some middle ground
Between Van Gogh and Cream of Wheat
Between roller coaster and rigid structure
A place where I can create
Without losing my ear.
The highs and the lows get higher and lower.
That’s the problem.
I can handle it at 90
Start to lose it at 100
Will never survive 150.
That’s what killed Vincent.
Maybe if I overlap my highs and lows.
Like an eight cylinder engine
Each cylinder helping to smooth out the others
So the whole machine just purrs
And pours forth creative power.
Or do I need the roller coaster
The 100 M.P.H. lows
To rush me to my next peak
To lift me to my Best?
– John O. Wilson
Dig the chaps
The young cowboy