Remembering Gam

Patricia A. Wilson, 84, journalist, black belt June 22, 2011|

By JOHN F. MORRISON, 215-854-5573

WHEN A CRAB took hold of Pat Wilson’s finger and wouldn’t let go, she looked it dead in the eye and said, “You go in the pot first!” Pat Wilson was not only the “world’s best crabber,” as her daughter described her, but she had an irrepressible wit that didn’t fail her even with a crab hanging on her finger.

Or when she was diagnosed with cancer. She wouldn’t say the word but referred to it as “this silly thing they say I’ve got,” and her natural optimism never dimmed.

Patricia Ann Wilson, onetime entertainment reporter for the Inquirer, a Civil Air Patrol pilot during World War II, a black-belt karate expert who studied in Japan and a woman much cherished for her quirky charm, died of cancer Sunday. She was 84 and lived in Riddle Village, near Media.

Pat was the widow of John T. “Jack” Wilson, a highly regarded sports and magazine editor at the old Philadelphia Bulletin who died in 2006. “She was a character,” said her daughter, Donna Urban. “She was a lot of fun.”

Pat was born in Malden, Mass., to George J. Wilson and Laura Bennet Wilson. She came to Philadelphia at age 12 and graduated from Shaw Junior High School and John Bartram High. She also spent a year at Temple University.

Pat was only 18 when she became a pilot for the Civil Air Patrol. At one time, one of her jobs was to tow targets for gunnery practice.

After the war, she took a job as a copy girl for the Inquirer and worked her way up to entertainment reporter. It was there that she met Jack Wilson, who was in the Inquirer sports department before he moved to the Bulletin. They were married in 1949.

Pat took up karate in her 40s and studied with Teruyuki Okazaki, a prominent martial-arts teacher and chairman of the International Shotokan Karate Federation in Philadelphia.

“Pat was of an earlier generation of accomplished women who inspired those of us who were coming up,” said Sara Grimes, a fellow karate student and retired journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts. “She was smart, kind and generous with help and advice.”

Pat liked to tell the story of how while in Japan with Okazaki, she encountered a squat toilet (a hole in the floor) in a fancy restaurant. “She somehow managed to get her foot stuck in the toilet,” said Grimes, “and her rendition of how she got out of that situation was a hoot.”

Grimes, who met Pat while working as a desk editor at the Bulletin, said Pat also told how she was with some people late at night in Japan when a Japanese man told her in a rage that his brother had been killed in the war. “Pat said she replied, ‘And my brother was killed at Pearl Harbor. We both have much to forget.’ At this the man broke down and wept, they hugged each other and the moment was saved.” Pat had no brother, but her “quick thinking, wit and goodwill toward people – that was really endearing about her and made her many friends,” Grimes said.

On the dojo floor, Pat not only held her own, Grimes said, but “was the life of the party whenever the karate gang got together.”

A warm and caring person, Pat was enthusiastic for life, and her energetic, can-do attitude charmed strangers and colleagues,” said longtime friend Mary Packwood, a former Bulletin writer. “She never hesitated to try a new activity or a difficult sport or to make new friends.”

Pat renewed her pilot’s license in 1960. She taught karate and self-defense at Swarthmore College, the University of Delaware, Beaver College (now Arcadia University) and Immaculata University.

While living in Dagsboro, Del., Pat would rise at 4 a.m. to get out on the Indian River for crabbing.

In her early years, Pat experimented with automatic writing, a method of fortunetelling, and had a sought-after knack for predicting the winners at the Brandywine Raceway, in Delaware. She gave up her psychic activities when she came to believe that they were contrary to her religious faith.

Besides her daughter, she is survived by a son, John T. Wilson Jr.; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at Evangel Assembly of God Church, in Glenolden. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon.


6 thoughts on “Remembering Gam

  1. I remember meeting Pat a few times back in the late 80’s. She was confident and friendly, reaching out to others, caring. I am awed at her accomplishments, she lived a very full and interesting life. We send our condolences to Jack and all of the family of this dear woman. We know she will be greatly missed.

  2. What a beautiful tribute! Such an inspiring lady – thank you for sharing this with all of us.
    Patty, what an honor to be Gam’s namesake. And Jen, how wonderful that you’ve inherited her writing skills!
    All of you Wilson girls seem to have her wonderful spunk… and wow, I can’t believe how much Jack Jr. looks like Jack Sr…
    Hugs and love to each one of you as you reflect on Gam’s life this week and in the future…

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