O. Meredith Wilson, celebrated U president of 1960s, dies at age 89

Nichol Nelson

Owen Meredith “Met” Wilson, the former University president who encouraged expansion and scholastic freedom during his tenure in the 1960s, died Saturday from brain cancer at his home in Eugene, Ore. He was 89.
Wilson oversaw a period of tremendous growth during his term from 1960 to 1967. Under his direction, the University expanded west across the Mississippi and saw a 37 percent jump in student enrollment.
Bryce Crawford, who served as dean of the Graduate School during Wilson’s term, said Wilson was a first-class scholar whose character served him well as president.
“He had the ruthlessness to do what needed to be done as well as the compassion and understanding for those who were going to be hurt by it,” Crawford said.
The circumstances of Wilson’s presidency bear a remarkable similarity to today’s campus. Like today, the University in the ’60s had strong governmental funding, and the increased financial support led to enormous amounts of expansion and program development.
During Wilson’s term, more than 40 construction projects involving new buildings or renovations were completed or begun. The campus moved beyond its East Bank border and attendance rose from 28,000 students to almost 45,000 by the time Wilson left.
Clarke Chambers, professor emeritus of history, said Wilson was fortunate to serve during a time period that many faculty members recall as a golden era.
“He came during very prosperous days,” Chambers said. “There was an enormous amount of government research funds.”
Chambers credits Wilson for his insistence on a major research library on the West Bank.
“He insisted on a large and modern library and saw that it was done right,” Chambers said. “It was very appropriate that the library be named for him.”
Wilson was born in Mexico, where his father headed a Mormon academy. He lived in Texas and eventually Utah, where he attended Brigham Young University during the Depression. He received his doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1943, then began a long career in higher education. He came to the University after serving as president of the University of Oregon for six years.
Wilson is survived by his widow, Marian, three sons, two daughters, 24 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Marian Wilson remembered her husband’s pride in the University. She said he understood the emotions of the Vietnam generation, recalling a time when he served coffee to protesting students.
“He felt very much their pain,” she said. “Somehow, there were not deep separations.”