Guerry Clegg: Tim Wilson could make us laugh, even as kids

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 1, 2014 

The comedian was dressed in full catcher's gear, except for the mask. His audience was a dugout full of prepubescent ballplayers. The Northern Little League Pirates. The comedian stuck one hand inside his catcher's vest, and the other behind his back.

"Look," cracked Tim Wilson. "I'm Napoleon Bonaparte."

We all laughed. Sure, it didn't take much to draw a laugh from a bunch of 10-12-year-olds. But Tim could make anybody laugh.

The jarring news hit Thursday morning. Tim Wilson had died at age 52. At first, we heard it was heart attack. Then we heard it was a ruptured aorta. The details matter less than the fact that such a wonderful person had left us too soon.

Before he was the gray-bearded comic with a cowboy hat and a regular on morning radio, Tim Wilson was just a regular kid at Morningside Elementary.

He was our catcher and occasional pitcher, the coach's son and the dugout jester. There were many other moments like the Napoleon Bonaparte bit, many of them much funnier, but the details are faded. Forty years will do that.

What I do recall, what everyone remembers, is that everybody liked Tim. He was smart. I mean, how many 11-year-olds had even heard of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was friendly, but that didn't mean you were exempt from being the butt of one of his jokes. He went on to incorporate some of the Morningside kids in his routines, especially Dennis and Tim Butterfield, "the World Champion Trick or Treaters."

"He had an unbelievable memory," Tim Butterfield said. "He could remember all sorts of stuff."

Tim Wilson and the Butterfields lived next door to each other just a block from Morningside Elementary, which is now just a dusty rock field. They were good ball players but small.

"When we played any kind of pick-up games, he would always pick me first, so I wouldn't be left out since I was the shortest, slowest person at Morningside Elementary," Dennis said. "He tried to make me look better than I really was. He took me under his wing playing sports."

As kids, we spent most of our time outside playing some kind of ball. That is, when we weren't playing in a creek. But there were those rainy or hot days that forced us to come up with something else inside. Those times were when Tim Wilson showed his artistic creativity.

"I was always in awe when we would lay around and draw or paint," Dennis said. "He would always help me with mine while his was perfect. Truly amazing artist. We would stay up late at night coming up with our version of the Johnny Carson show."

In his acknowledgements on his website, Tim recalled his mother Flo setting him up with his first gig, entertaining some Fort Benning soldiers when he was 11. Dennis recalled a time three years before that. Tim entertained family and friends, doing funny voices of teachers and parents at Dennis's eighth birthday party.

"He was a hit at 8 years old," Dennis said.

Tim Butterfield remembered Tim as "a gentle soul," a trait he inherited from his mother, a quiet school teacher.

"He was very likeable. His way of getting attention was cutting up."

His dad, Willie Wilson, was a character. He was our P.E. teacher at Morningside, as well as our coach on the Pirates. He was gruff, but he could be kind. Well, unless you had the misfortune of being an umpire or the opposing coach. Earl Weaver had nothing on him when it came to dealing with umpires and blown calls.

Honestly, we were a bit scared of him. But Tim kept everyone loose.

"He was always so jovial, even in the fear of his dad," Tim Butterfield said.

Tim wrote tributes to his parents for his website, which is in the process of being reworked. His website developer shared those tributes on Facebook.

"My old man was competitive and demanding and would put your ass to work in a heart beat. He was honest as the day is long and expected the same out of anybody around him. My daddy would give you his opinion on any topic and I often hear my father in my comedy routine."

If he got his perfection from his father, he received his creativity from his mother.

"I think my mother knew I would end up in show business. She made sure I had drawing lessons and would force me to take piano lessons. She would make us watch Porter Wagonner, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Glen Campbell and any variety shows that had musical acts."

She was kind, but she also battled depression. She finally took her life when Tim was in high school, which naturally hit him hard. Maybe that had something to do with Tim's decision to go into show business.

Many people knew Tim a lot better than I did, especially those who went to school with him at Brookstone. One thing that I'm sure is unanimous: We were all proud to see him make a name for himself.

Thanks for the laughs, old friend.

Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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