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A life of service: Veteran Paul Wilson dies at age 91 of COVID-19 (copy)
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A life of service: Veteran Paul Wilson dies at age 91 of COVID-19 (copy)

In his later years, Paul Wilson made it a habit to visit friends and acquaintances who had been hospitalized.

Robert Wilson, Paul Wilson's son, remembers speaking to his father about those visits.

“If he knew anybody, family or friend, who was in the hospital or any sort of nursing care facility … he would visit them religiously pretty much every day while they were there until they got out. It was kind of fun to hear him tell these stories. He felt like part of his job was to go visit with everybody and try to cheer them up," Robert Wilson said in a phone interview from his Seattle home.

It was very difficult for Robert Wilson to accept that in his father's final days, he was not able to visit him. Paul Wilson died March 29 at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans' Home in Lebanon at the age of 91 after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

"It was frightening," Robert Wilson said of the positive test for the new coronavirus. "It was particularly hard because there was no way to go visit him."

It meant a great deal to the younger Wilson that Ed and Leigh Bock continued to visit the veterans' home, even when all they could do was hold signs and engage in conversation through the window. 

The elder Wilson, who served in the United States Navy as a mechanic from 1948 to 1957, was recruited by Ed Bock to take a trip to Washington, D.C., with the South Willamette Valley Honor Flight program in the fall of 2016.

“It turned out to be … one of the greatest trips of his life," Wilson said.

Paul Wilson enlisted in the Navy on July 9, 1948, and re-enlisted for a second tour in 1951, ultimately serving through the summer of 1957. He served on board the USS Furse and the USS Currier and saw action in the Korean conflict.

The nation was at peace, however, when he originally enlisted. Robert Wilson believes his father was motivated simply by the desire to serve.

"As he got older, he started wearing a U.S. Navy baseball cap. He was often told ‘Thank you for your service.’ He had a response down pat, and I must have heard it a hundred times. He always said, ‘There were people that served before me, and when it came my turn I was happy to serve,'" Wilson remembered.

The trip to Washington, D.C., sparked a friendship between Paul Wilson and the Bock family. No one from his family was able to serve as his guardian for the trip, so Ed and Leigh Bock's daughter, Emma Deane, filled that role.

The relationship grew through visits to their home and the sharing of special occasions, such as Christmas and birthday parties.

"He was very outgoing, very friendly, hungry for community and relationships. We just fell in love with him," said Leigh Matthews Bock. 

The generosity shown to his father meant a great deal to Robert Wilson.

"They really go above and beyond. In so many ways they kind of adopted my dad as a part of their family," Wilson said. "It was amazing the amount of dedication they showed to him."

Paul Wilson was born in Jan. 16, 1929, in Tidewater. After his discharge from the Navy, he moved to Corvallis and lived there most of his life except for a three-year move to Sweet Home and the years he served as the resident manager at Paradise Cove RV Resort in Wheeler.

He worked primarily as a long-haul truck driver and co-owned the William and Paul Wilson Trucking Co. in Philomath.

He and his wife, June, were married for 54 years until her passing in 2014. They are survived by Robert Wilson and daughter Mary Ruth Wilson of Corvallis.

Robert Wilson said his mother's cancer diagnosis served to bring the family even closer together.

"We were always a close family, spoke on the phone once or twice a week. That diagnosis changed everything. I spoke to my mother and my father at minimum once a day, sometimes more than that," Wilson said. "This year, we talked more like three times a day. First thing in the morning, after lunch, then in the evening. We were in constant contact.”

That close connection helped to soften the blow of his father's final days.

"The last day and a half of his life, he really couldn’t talk on the phone because I think he was intubated, was getting oxygen. I think he was on a ventilator. I sent messages to his nurse and she told him," Wilson said. "As far as a hand-holding goodbye, we didn’t have that opportunity."

Wilson is thankful for the care his father received at the veterans' home in Lebanon. His dad was able to live independently deep into his 80s and kept up a busy schedule visiting friends and serving as a community volunteer, especially at the Grace Center in Corvallis.

After a broken hip and a back injury made it impossible for him to continue to live on his own, Paul Wilson moved into the Edward C. Allworth Veterans' Home in May 2017. He chose the facility on the urging of Ed Bock and because it allowed him to be near his brother, Bill. 

Robert Wilson said that was a special time for the brothers. It took some time to adjust to a new routine after a life of independence, but the staff made the transition much easier.

"He really enjoyed living there. He enjoyed the opportunity to visit with his brother every day. He enjoyed all the administrative staff. He really considered all of them friends," Wilson said of his father.

Even in his new home, Paul Wilson found a way to volunteer. He served as a crossing guard for students at neighboring Pioneer School. Principal Tonya Cairo said Wilson took those responsibilities very seriously.

"Unless he was sick, he was out there every day, morning and afternoon," Cairo. 

Wilson became an advocate for Pioneer students beyond his responsibilities as a crossing guard. He was concerned about safety and lobbied the Lebanon Police Department and city councilors to provide additional signage near the school. Those signs were installed this winter.

"He was always working, always serving," Cairo said. "He didn't come to me and say 'Hey, do you want me to do this?' He took that upon himself to advocate, and we appreciated his voice."

Because of the limitations currently in place due to coronavirus it will take some time to make final arrangements. Wilson doesn't even know when he will be able to collect his father's personal items from the home.

“It is impossible to have a traditional funeral or memorial service. That’s just not possible. What we hope to do is, maybe in a month or two months’ time, when we get some form of all-clear, some form of permission to gather in large groups, then to have a memorial service. I think that’s the best thing to do. I think it honors his memory best. I would hate to schedule a memorial service and have people be afraid to attend," Wilson said.

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