Neal C. Wilson, who served as president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church from 1979 to 1990, and was the father of the denomination's current president, died today at a care facility in Dayton, Maryland, United States. He was 90.
As president, Wilson furthered the church's mission in the former Soviet Union two years before the fall of communism there, helping obtain permission to establish an Adventist seminary and administrative headquarters near Moscow in 1987. He also oversaw the 1980 adoption of the church's Fundamental Beliefs, the creation of Adventist World Radio and Global Mission, and oversaw the relocation of the denomination's world headquarters from Takoma Park, Maryland to its current location in Silver Spring.
During his tenure, Wilson visited 170 countries where the church operated institutions of healthcare, education, evangelism and publishing. He was known to remember thousands of people, even after brief meetings.
"I regard him as one of the outstanding leaders in the history of this church," said Bill Johnsson, former editor of the Adventist Review. "I asked him once how he remembered people's names so well and he said he just made a point of it."
After retirement in 1990, Wilson served as an adviser to the denomination's Euro-Asia Division. The U.S. Department of State would periodically call him regarding situations in the Middle East based on his understanding of the region from a 15-year post in Egypt, Johnsson said.
"He could have been a statesman or a diplomat but he chose to give his talents to the church and we were all blessed by that," Johnsson said.
Neal Clayton Wilson was born in Lodi, California in 1920, the son of a missionary and church administrator. Wilson attended schools in Zambia, Malawi, South Africa and India before earning a bachelor's degree from the church-owned Pacific Union College in Angwin, California in 1942. In 1944, he earned a degree from the Adventist Theological Seminary, then located in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Wilson served the church in Egypt from 1944 to 1958, first as a pastor and evangelist and later as the regional administrative president. He then worked as an administrator in California and Maryland before his appointment as president of the church's North American Division in 1966. He served in the post until his appointment as president of the denomination.
Wilson's son, Ted N.C. Wilson, was elected president of the Adventist world church in June.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Wednesday, January 19 in the Adventist Church world headquarters auditorium. The service will also be broadcast live on Hope Church Channel and hopechurchchannel.org.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Adventist Heritage Ministry, Adventist World Radio or Christian Record Services for the Blind.