Tom Wilson, who worked passionately for more than 30 years with the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs to provide educational opportunities for all students and later helped guide prospective students around campus as a tour bus driver for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, died peacefully at his Blacksburg home on June 6, 2020. He was 62.

“He was a wonderful and dedicated professional whose service to Virginia Tech’s TRIO Programs touched the lives of literally thousands of young people. He cared deeply about his work and was passionate about education as a pathway to lifting the human condition,” said John Dooley, former vice president for outreach and international affairs and current CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation.    

A native of Marion, Virginia, Wilson received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Concord University and a master’s degree in educational administration from Virginia Tech.

While earning his master’s, he started working with the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs, serving as counselor, assistant director, and, beginning in 1998, director. The federally funded programs, which fall under the umbrella of the TRIO Programs, part of Outreach and International Affairs, help low-income, first-generation students, veterans, adult learners, and other underrepresented populations across Southwest Virginia obtain postsecondary education.

“I honestly can't think of anyone with the level of commitment to young people,” said Joe Lyle, a Talent Search project advisor who worked with Wilson for more than a decade. “He was a strong, dedicated, and creative force in the office and a concerned, involved, and gentle educator.”

Fellow project advisor Raven Smith first met Wilson when she was a student participant in Upward Bound and Talent Search. “I remember attending Saturday tutorials, and he would always give me a hug and ask how I was doing,” she said. “He truly loved his students and always made sure we had what we needed.”

She said Wilson showed up at the Upward Bound family orientation a year ago to welcome her as a new staff member. “It meant so much to me that he was there and made me realize that I had come full circle from once a TRIO student to now a TRIO employee,” Smith said.

TRIO Programs Director Frances Clark said Wilson’s influence is most evident in the relationships he built and maintained with students and their families, colleagues, and constituents. “He had a warmth about him that was comforting, and he had a knack for helping others achieve their best selves,” she said.

Wilson’s influence extended far beyond the borders of Virginia. “He was well known and loved in the broader TRIO community, regionally and nationally,” Clark said. He twice served as president of the Virginia Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel, served two terms on the board of the Mid-Eastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel, and was a three-time recipient of the Virginia Outstanding Service Award for service to the state and regional associations.

“It was a blessing to work alongside of and learn from Tom throughout his tenure as director of TRIO Programs. He was well respected by his colleagues and, more important, by the students he served,” said Susan E. Short, associate vice president for engagement.

Wilson retired from Virginia Tech in 2012 but returned to work in 2015 as a tour bus driver for Undergraduate Admissions, a position he held until this year. Three times a day, he shuttled dozens of prospective and new students and their families from the Visitor Center to campus. For many, Wilson was one of the first Hokies they got to know.

“Tom continued to inspire thousands of prospective Hokies as a special ambassador of Virginia Tech admissions behind the wheel of the tour bus. He took great pride in making sure all prospective students and their families knew that Virginia Tech was a very special place,” Dooley said. 

Wilson was a wonderful representative of admissions and the university, said Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management and director of undergraduate admissions. “He lived out Ut Prosim in every encounter he had with prospective students and their families. He constantly shared his love for Virginia Tech with visitors, and he mentored our Hokie Ambassador student tour guides. Tom was a Hokie through and through, and we will miss him.”

Wilson’s Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) spirit stretched beyond the university. For more than 30 years, he served as choir director for Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Blacksburg. He was an avid golfer and an active fan of Virginia Tech and Concord sports.

A memorial service to celebrate his life will be announced at a later date.

Donations may be made to the Upward Bound/Talent Search scholarship fund in Wilson’s memory. To contribute online, click this link and then:

  • Select an area: Choose “University”
  • Select a fund: Choose “Other”
  • Designation: Type “Fund 874404
  • Search for an area to support: Leave blank
Share this story