Detroit political activist Tom Wilson dies from COVID-19

Tom Wilson Jr. was as popular to radio listeners as the talk show hosts whose programs he often called into.

Known to listeners as "Tom, from northwest Detroit," Wilson, a 73-year-old retired Detroit school teacher, guidance counselor and community activist, used the airwaves to galvanize Detroiters to get things done and to mobilize them to act on many issues affecting the city.

Tom Wilson Jr.

Wilson died April 22 of COVID-19, silencing a voice for change and progress in Detroit.

"He really wanted people to hear what he had to say," said Eileen Wilson of her husband of 55 years. She said in addition to the talk show calls, he wrote letters to the editorial page of Detroit newspapers expressing his opinions on local and national political issues.

"He wanted politicians to be responsible for what they say and do," said Eileen Wilson. She said her husband was sergeant-at-arms for the 14th Congressional District's Democratic Party and was awarded an African American leadership award for precinct delegates, said his wife.

Another of Tom Wilson's passions was beautifying his northwest Detroit neighborhood by planting impatiens and geraniums in the spring and helping to keep it safe for residents. He was a member of the Detroit Police Department Community Relations Board and was a Neighborhood City Hall manager during the administration of former  Mayor Dennis Archer.

Wilson would get flowers from community groups who provided them for Detroit residents and give them to other neighbors to help them spruce up their own homes, said his wife.

Eileen Wilson is both pained and puzzled over the death of her husband from the coronavirus last week.

 Wilson, according to his wife, was fit and had no underlying health conditions. She said her husband had won Senior Olympics medals for swimming.

"He swam 50 laps a day," she said. "He was healthy as I don't know what. He was the last person you would think would get it. I still can't believe it."

Tom Wilson died in Sinai-Grace Hospital eight days after becoming infected with the virus. Eileen Wilson said she noticed her husband was having a problem breathing, which prompted her to take him to the hospital. 

Wilson attended St. Scholastica Catholic Church on Detroit's northwest side. A graduate of Detroit Cathedral High School, Wilson attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Detroit. He was a graduate of Wayne State University, where he received his bachelor's degree in education and also Eastern Michigan University, where he obtained a master's degree in guidance and counseling.

Luther Keith, a former senior editor and columnist for The Detroit News, was a schoolmate of Wilson's in high school, and recalled not only Wilson's athletic skills but also his commitment to his students and community.

"He was involved in all kinds of community activities," said Keith. "He had a positive attitude. He could disagree with you without being disagreeable. His motto was don't just talk about it, be about it."

Wilson said her husband was an avid gardener and music fan. He enjoyed listening to Jimi Hendrix, blues and jazz music.

Eileen Wilson said final arrangements have not yet been completed but that it will be a small service, now required of funeral homes due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Besides his wife, Wilson leaves behind his two children, Thomas M. Wilson and Shaughn Tamara Wilson; three grandchildren, Thomas, Tariq and Taiquon; his mother, Ruth Wilson; and many other relatives and friends.

Eileen Wilson urged people to be cautious and follow guidelines concerning the spread of the virus.

"This is a different bug," she said. "It's very, very dangerous. I don't think people are taking it very seriously."