Rie Wilson: Giving so others can live
Every once in a very lucky while, you get to know a person who’s funny, smart, talented and chooses teaching others how to better their lives as a career. What is that sayingGive a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Well then you could say for the past three decades Rie Wilson has been bolstering the “fishing” industry like crazy. Why and how people interact and evolve as they do grabbed her interest early on and she turned that interest into action and has helped thousands improve their skills, develop new ones and make their lives more fulfilling ever since.
Rose Marie Wilson was born and raised in Parkersburg the youngest of Garnet Swain and Marden Wilson’s three children … all daughters: Marda, Libby and Rie.
Mom was a music teacher, Dad, a building contractor and according to their youngest, “They were a unique couple for the times. They raised us to think for ourselves and be decisive. They trusted us and taught us to be strong women. My parents were an equal partnership, they were both strong leaders.”
The Wilson home was full of music and athletics. Every member of the family could sing and beautifully sing they did. There was nothing more fun for the Wilsons then to gather around the piano and sing the Messiah – no kidding. At this point in the interview, Rie fired-up a Marden Wilson recording of Sibelius’ The Holy City that stopped me dead in my tracks as an astonishing Bocelli-esque tenor came pouring forth.
Garnet and Marden loved classical music and their girls got into the act early. From the time Rie was in the first grade she was singing in the United Methodist Church choir with her family and she said of this. “Choir has always been my greatest joy.” The Wilson’s music-filled home was also one that the neighborhood kids mobbed for a constant stream of pick-up sports competitions. Garnet and Marden taught their daughters that girls and boys were created equal in school, behind the mic or on the playing field and in the fifties and early sixties that wasn’t the norm. This visionary couple was happily married for more than fifty years.
The Parkersburg High choir was so good that “Every Spring Break we traveled and performed.” These musical treks throughout the country with her friends were the norm. “We were even invited to sing in New York City at Town Hall,” she recalled. “It was great.” Rie graduated from Parkersburg High School in 1969. It was the peak of the World War II babies, and as there was only one high school in Parkersburg and the class of ’69 had an enrollment of 1,124.
The times were tumultuous; it was now the peak of the Viet Nam War and as Rie sadly said. “I remember all the guys watching TV to see if their draft number would be called up.” “Two of my cousins went to Viet Nam. Tom was the only one who came back. He had been a star in high school, lettered in four sports and was at the University of Texas playing baseball when he was called. He was a medic in Viet Nam and they left him in that job much longer than they should have. “When Tom finally came home the damage was done and he spent the rest of his once promising life drugged and drifting until he died leaving his adoring younger cousin devastated.
Rie went off to West Virginia Wesleyan University in Buckhannon and graduated with a Bachelors in Sociology. “I majored in Sociology (not psychology) because I didn’t want to take statistics.” she laughed. But her burning interest is the study of society, human social interaction and the rules and processes that bind and separate people was lit in high school when she first learned that “Women were being treated differently then men in the work place and I wanted to study the “why” of it. I was always asking questions that others wouldn’t ask. It was the beginning of the women’s movement and, in most industries and all else being equal, a woman made 58 cents for every dollar a man made and I kept asking why. I ruffled feathers. You could say I was a bit of a rabble rouser. But I didn’t lose my soul.” (Note: 2008 salary figures: Men – $1, Women – 77 cents.)
Rie graduated from Wesleyan and like many grads in that day (and this) spent the first couple of years in “funny jobs.” There was one with the Census Department, the Welfare Department, and Kaufman’s Department Store. Funny, notwithstanding every job put Rie in touch with the public where she honed her skills at smoothing things out and making them better. Within a few years she found herself at C&P Telephone which got her to AT&T and then Bell Atlantic in Washington, DC. For the next twenty years she managed projects and staff in training, consumer affairs, public relations and human resources. She designed an award-winning information program for the breakup of the Bell System, coordinated nationwide consumer affairs programs, conducted customer and employee focus groups, provided all consumer information materials for 150 directories and administered EEO/AA program for 80,000 employees.
In 1985 Rie married a colleague, John Fugel, and in 1989 they moved from Northern Virginia to Shepherdstown. Rie took a sabbatical from the phone company and while on leave began giving career management training sessions teaching people how to develop their skills and use them doing what they really wanted to do.
She never went back to AT& T, they hired her as a consultant. Her training business grew to include workshops, public speaking, conferences, train-the-trainer sessions and over the past fourteen years has amassed an impressive and wide-ranging client list from the US State Department to Frederick Community College.
It’s been twenty years now and Rie Wilson is busier than ever. She and John didn’t make it and he no longer lives here but Rie sure does. Her training business is thriving, she’s an outspoken and passionate advocate for healthcare reform, a mainstay at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church as the newsletter editor and lifting her wonderful alto voice in the choir, a volunteer driver for Caregivers and a mediator in family court.
Fun times means hanging with The East Enders: Rosemarie Coy, Becky Phipps and Mary Anne Kave. They hit the Opera House, local restaurants and as many concerts at Shepherd University as is possible. Of the Two Rivers Chamber Orchestra concert in early October, Rie said “I don’t do standing ovations, but I did that night. It was fantastic.”
Her passion for traveling, architecture and exploration is satisfied with frequent trips and cruises with sisters, Marda and Libby, and good friend Nancy Wilson. There’s a map of the world in her office with little pins stuck in each destination so far- forty one countries and forty eight states. Home-life is the stylishly warm, art-filled house on Valley Court with ten-year old, Bailey The Rescue Dog.
Rie Wilson is the personification of Shepherdstown. She’s warm, good natured, talented, caring and passionate about causes. And she doesn’t just talk the talk. Four years ago when Rie discovered another SPC member, Joni Edwards, desperately needed a kidney transplant to survive, she gave her one of hers. When I asked “why?” She said simply “Because I could.” Now how’s that for making a life better?
– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.