Remembering Lifetime Disability Advocate and Friend Chip Wilson

Cited from The Florida Times Union:

Doctors told Remer “Chip” Wilson he had a week to live when a tumor was discovered on his spine at age 17. If they tried to remove it, the surgery would kill him. He survived the first week. He survived the second week.

He went to Shands Gainesville when a doctor said he could successfully operate, but X-rays showed the tumor had disappeared, said his wife, Jo Wilson.

Though the ordeal left him a paraplegic, he was never bitter and devoted much of his time to assisting people with disabilities, his wife said. And he lived 45 more years before dying Sept. 18 of bladder cancer. He was 62.

“Chip was probably the best advocate for people with disabilities that I’ve ever met,” said Matt Motko, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of Jacksonville. “The void that he’s left cannot be filled.”

Until recent months, Mr. Wilson traveled extensively as statewide disability coordinator for the Florida Department of Emergency Management, ensuring that people with disabilities were included in emergency preparedness. He was hired in 2007 from 200 applicants to what was then the first position of its kind in the United States.

The Jacksonville native played football and ran track at Forrest High School. The tumor was found in his senior year.

“Chip felt the Lord used him in so many ways,” Wilson said. “He knew that everything couldn’t be perfect for people with disabilities just like they couldn’t for everybody else.”

He earned the rank of Eagle Scout and graduated with his class, walking across the stage with the aid of crutches and braces because his knees would lock. By 1989, however, he lost the ability to stand and had to use a wheelchair.

But he never lost his sense of humor, she said. Shortly after they married 41 years ago, he was on crutches in a store when she accidentally stepped on his toe.

“Oh, I bet that hurt,” he told her, as bystanders tried to stifle a chuckle. Mr. Wilson was never sensitive about using a wheelchair and would tell parents not to be embarrassed if their children asked him questions.

Mr. Wilson graduated from Jacksonville University with a degree in sociology in 1974. For 22 years, he was a systems analyst at Prudential Insurance Co., retiring in 2002. While at Prudential, he earned a master’s degree from Webster University in Jacksonville. But he didn’t like retirement and founded ADA Consultants of Northeast Florida, which specialized in helping businesses become more accessible.

For six years, Mr. Wilson was board president of the Independent Living Resource Center of Jacksonville.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Chris Wilson; a daughter, Joy Smith; and two grandchildren, all of Jacksonville; and four sisters.

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