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Epilogue | Jack Clinton Wilson

Jack Wilson nourished his western roots in more than 700 library books

LARGO — Jack Wilson spent his evenings in a blue recliner, a book in his lap and a bowl of cheese crackers and a Diet Pepsi near at hand.

Though he made sure to be there in time for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, Mr. Wilson was multi-tasking between Vanna and Alex on the one hand, and authors like Louis L'Amour and A.B. Guthrie on the other.

Over 18 years, Mr. Wilson read 733 books, most of them from the Largo Public Library — nearly all of them westerns — then dutifully recorded each title in pencil in a spiral notebook.

The adventures kept him in touch with his western roots and a considerably wilder youth.

Mr. Wilson, a retired electronics worker who cultivated a life of the mind, died Feb. 17, following a long bout with cancer. He was 84.

"Jack loved Florida, but was still at heart a child of the West," said Jon Wilson, his brother by adoption and a former Times staff writer.

At age 20 or 21, according to family lore and for reasons that remain unclear, Mr. Wilson charged up the steps of the capitol building in Cheyenne, Wyo. on a horse, possibly carrying an emblem of the Lakota Sioux. That same year he bonded in a blood ritual with Walter J. Red Cloud — the grandson of Lakota Chief Red Cloud, who was a crucial leader in the battle of Little Big Horn against Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army.

He was a man of many sides. He helped support the family after a death, but also did his share of carousing.

"Very few people know this, but Jack once could play the piano very well, having taken lessons as a youngster," said Jon Wilson, who was 18 years his junior. "I can remember him coming home from a night on the town, rather the worse for wear, maybe even having been in a tavern fist fight, and sitting down at home the next night and playing something like Franz Schubert's Serenade.

"He might just as easily play something as varied as Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart."

Mr. Wilson arrived in St. Petersburg with his first wife and family in 1956 and worked in quality control for an electronics firm. Though fond of long-winded shaggy-dog jokes, he impressed others as a quiet man most comfortable with a fishing pole in his hand. In 1975, he owned a Gulfport bait shop with Mary, his wife since 1968.

"Snook was our passion," said Mary Wilson, 81. "We waded out with the sharks and everything." They moved to Largo 19 1989, where Mr. Wilson began devouring westerns from the library.

The genre echoed his bloodlines. A family geneaolgist discovered that he descended from an 18th-century Scotch-Irish frontiersman on one side; and on the other, a Norwegian sailor who arrived in Nebraska in a covered wagon. A grandfather dealt poker to gold prospectors in Cripple Creek, Colo. in the 1890s.

Mr. Wilson got a taste of adventure aboard a Navy submarine chaser at the end of World War II. He met Red Cloud at Cheyenne Frontier Days, a large rodeo and western-themed celebration.

He returned to the West in retirement, taking several trips with his wife in a motor home. At an Oregon bookstore in 1996 he met western writer Terry C. Johnston, who authored more than 30 novels. After discussing his work and signing several of his books for Mr. Wilson, Johnston went a step further.

On a slip of blue paper decorated with a lighthouse and seagulls, he wrote a message for Mr. Wilson to keep.

"As the fickle spirits of the earth and sky conspire to rob a man of his soul, we rediscover that tiny flicker of the Almighty within all of us who refuse to give up," the note read.

He kept the note folded in his wallet for the rest of his life. His wife found it there last week, days after he died at Largo Medical Center following lung cancer, strokes and, finally, pneumonia.

She will hang on to the spiral notebook in which her husband logged the books he had read.

The last western he read was West of Quarantine, by Todhunter Ballard. The entry is dated June 17, 2007, the same year the book was published.

When he closed the cover for the last time, Mr. Wilson had read all of the westerns on his to-do list.

"There might have been a few (westerns) left, but he didn't want to read those," his wife said.

He never went back to the library.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or

. biography

Jack Clinton Wilson

Born: July 13, 1927

Died: Feb. 17, 2012

Survivors: wife Mary; daughter Merry; sister Beth Christopulos; brother Jon Wilson; stepson Richard Cramer; stepdaughter Mary Jo Arendt; one grandson; five stepgrandchildren; five great-grandchildren.

Jack Wilson nourished his western roots in more than 700 library books 02/25/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 26, 2012 9:26am]
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