Wilson remembered as philanthropist, community leader

Cliff Wilson

Cliff Wilson always lived by one rule: do your giving while you’re living so you’re knowing where it’s going. And perhaps more than any resident in Conrad’s history, the longtime Ritchie Industries chief executive, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 89, did everything in his power to ensure that his hometown grew and thrived, no matter the cost.


One doesn’t have to search for long to find something that Wilson, who graduated from Conrad High School and returned to take over the family business after completing his military service, had a hand in: from city hall to the Conrad Museum to the new public library to the swimming pool, he quite literally played a crucial role in building the community from the ground up.


“You can look all over town and see his fingerprints on things,” said Mayor Jeff Martin, who was also Wilson’s neighbor. “He never forgot his roots.”


Even details as specific as the time on the clock downtown kept Wilson’s attention until the end: he wanted it to be right, and he reminded Martin whenever he got the chance. If he saw a house or a dilapidated building that didn’t fit with his vision for the community, he got in touch with city hall and did something about it. 


As daughters Connie (Wilson) Yates and Denise (Wilson) Yantis sorted through their father’s treasure trove of belongings at his home last week and tried to figure out what to do with the Lexus SUV sitting in the garage, they reflected on the life of a man who was always busy with something, always exercising well into his 80s, always traveling (destinations included the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica), always educating himself on some new topic but never seeking accolades or attention—though there are a few county and statewide awards hanging on the wall above his basement desk. 


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