Clyde N. Wilson
By Brion McClanahan
Most people don’t know, but today (June 11) is Clyde Wilson’s birthday.
I had the honor of being Clyde’s last doctoral student. I first met Clyde in the Spring of 1997 as a senior in college trying to decide where to attend graduate school. My top choices were South Carolina and Alabama, Clyde Wilson or Forrest McDonald. My advisor as an undergraduate, Bart Talbert, attended Alabama and had given me a sound education on all things McDonald. He was one of McDonald’s last students.
I left Salisbury, Maryland on my Spring Break determined to find a home for the next several years. I had spoken to Clyde before I left–actually his answering machine–and let him know when I would be arriving in Columbia. South Carolina was my second choice, but I knew of Clyde and his fantastic work on the South and on the Papers of John C. Calhoun. I would be happy there, too, if fate saw fit to send me there.
Clyde’s office was located on the first floor of Gambrell Hall, a grey maze of a building that looked like something Stalin’s architects designed during the Five Year Plans. It should have been a warning. Some of the professors in the history department would have been comfortable goose stepping around Red Square.
I found Clyde’s office, knocked, and in his distinctive way told me to “come in.” He shook my hand, leaned back in his chair, and spoke to me for about thirty seconds before two of his students came sauntering into the room.
“This is Carey Roberts and John Devanny,” Clyde said, “and they will be showing you around.”
That was the last I saw of Clyde. Roberts and Devanny brought me to a little office, turned on the hot lights, and began interrogating me. Why did I want to attend South Carolina? Why did I want to work with Clyde? What did I want to study? And Devanny threw the Oxford dictionary at me. It was akin to reading an Augusta Jane Evans Wilson novel.
I assume I made it through their interview in fine order because Clyde had no objection to working with me. But I still had to meet McDonald at Alabama.
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