SOCORRO, N.M., March 2, 2000 -- When Dave Wilson applied for the job of staff architect at New Mexico Tech, he told his interviewer that he wanted more than anything to be a good architect.
He was a good architect, but he was far more than just that: Wilson, who died unexpectedly on Feb. 25 at the age of 49, was a genuinely good person.
"We all loved Dave a lot," said Pete Sanchez at a memorial service for Wilson last Tuesday afternoon. Sanchez, speaking on behalf of "the P-Plant crew," said that one of the things that made Wilson so special was that he always had a kind word or greeting for everyone.
"David was a very wonderful person," said Sanchez. "He had something to tease you about every day, but he was serious when it came to work . . . he was one hell of a guy. We'll miss him a lot."
Wilson would have been pleased to see the many friends and co-workers who crowded the funeral home chapel. Later, the groups met and mingled at a gathering at his Lemitar home, where they traded "Dave stories" and reminisced. Among the groups was a core of lifelong friends from Las Cruces.
"Dave's friends were his life -- he loved all of you very much," said Wilson's only sibling, Steve. He looked around the room. "And it's quite apparent that you loved him, too." Steve said he was amazed at how many people knew his younger brother. "Everyone knows Dave," he said. "No matter where we went, people knew, and you didn't have to explain anything. This is a wonderful town."
Wilson was born on Dec. 16, 1950, to Marvin and Helen Wilson in Bryan, Texas, and grew up in Las Cruces. He was a graduate of Las Cruces High School, where he was a champion wrestler, and later earned his degree in architecture from the University of New Mexico (UNM).
"He always wanted kids," said Beverly McMullan, a friend of Wilson's since high school. "I was the pain in his side." Beverly said that when she met her husband, she told him, "Dave is part of the deal. He's my friend."
"He had a lot of women friends who wanted to mother him because he wasn't married," said his mother. She recalled one break-up and her son's comment afterward: "He said to me, 'I don't need anyone else to nag me -- I've got you.'"
"Dave was pretty shy, but he made tons of friends," said Dan Carpenter, a friend since Wilson's UNM days. "He was a nice guy, but also very frank -- he'd tell you what he was thinking."
Wilson loved to wrestle, said Carpenter, and would take on his friends until his arm came out of its socket. He preferred old trucks to new ones, and until recently, always had a "couple of extra" to park.
"Obviously," said Carpenter, "he had a thing for animals."
He loved to ride, and owned four horses he kept corralled at his Lemitar home, which he himself designed. He also had four dogs and a burro, which someone referred to as a "couch burro," because Wilson allowed it to sit on his couch until the animal grew too large for inside privileges.
He was looking forward to seeing last Friday night's Pet Circus at Macey Center, and died with two tickets to the show in his wallet.
It was, in fact, his devotion to animals that cemented the friendship between Wilson and Martha Rimmel of Martha's Black Dog.
"In 1980 I met Dave at a party, and he told me this story," said Rimmel. Wilson had been hiking in the Sandias the day before, and found a baby owl that had fallen out of its nest and hurt its wing. Wilson took it home and nursed it back to health.
"Once the owl had gotten better, he drove up to the crest, and hiked to the exact place he had found it, and that's where he left it," Rimmel said. "I fell in love that day."
Wilson also was quite a hunting enthusiast. A group of friends recalled the first time they took him dove hunting. "He was shooting like crazy," said one friend, and had filled his game bag with about 30 birds.
"He was standing there with that smile and sparkling eyes, and we never told him that he had filled his bag with meadowlarks. We just told him he had shot a lot of males. Dave cleaned them and ate them, and he never knew until we brought him a hat with the words, 'Meadowlarks Unlimited.'"
Jim Shaffner, director of Tech's Physical Plant, knew Wilson both as a co-worker and as a personal friend. "Dave Wilson was involved in every single architectural project on this campus for the past 10 years," said Shaffner.
Wilson, he said, designed the Aerojet facilities in Tech's research park, the facelift to South Hall, and oversaw the Workman Center project from demolition (of the old building) to completion (of the new one). Shaffner said Wilson worked toward an architectural harmony, so that no building "stuck out." Even the rugby storage shed parked on the Athletic Field fits into the genre.
Yvonne Manzano, associate director of the P-Plant, recalled Wilson's deadpan humor and gentle mien. "You had to talk calmly and slowly to Dave," said Manzano. "You had to be gentle, because he was gentle -- he didn't understand aggressiveness."
He also didn't hold fast to material things, and was generous to a fault. True blue. That was Dave.
Karyn DeBont, manager of Tech's greenhouse, said her crew gathered together after lunch to hear the news of Wilson's death. DeBont explained that P-Plant employees are divided between those who work inside the building, and those who don't.
"One of the guys asked, 'Which one is Dave?'" said DeBont. "A student answered him: 'He's the one who always said hi to you.' What a wonderful gift he gave those guys. And that, for me, sums it all up."
-- NMT --