Chapter 1: Family and Early Career
04:02:39:24 - 04:03:09:03
Lisa: My name is Lisa Sonneborn and it's my pleasure to interview Jim Wilson at Temple University on December 16th 2011 and also present is our videographer Lindsey Martin, and Jim, do we have your permission to begin the interview?
Jim: You certainly do. Thank you.
04:03:09:03 - 04:05:01:27
Lisa: Thanks. Um, well, we'll start Jim by asking a little bit about your background. I'm wondering if you can tell me where you were born.
Jim: I was born here in the city of Philadelphia and I went to school here and, uh, went to The University of Pennsylvania and went to The Wharton School of Penn. That was a life transforming experience to say the least, and then went into the publishing business and went to New York City and worked at The New York Times for about a dozen years and then went on to, thought I needed to get into the magazine business and went on to U.S. News and World Report and, uh, then I went to the Newspaper Association of America as Senior Vice President of sales and marketing for The Newspaper Association of America and then I had, uh, a really extraordinary experience. I went with Hearst. Hearst is the big U.S. publisher and, uh, we started a Russian newspaper in Moscow in Saint Petersburg and I went to Moscow to, uh, manage the project. Uh, It was a joint venture with Izvestia and, uh, it was, uh, an extraordinary experience, went back and forth between Moscow, Saint Petersburg and New York, all the time I was commuting. I was younger then and I could handle that kind of stuff, and then I went to Forbes. I was Vice President of Forbes, so you see my background was all in the publishing business. And then I retired, uh, several years ago, but now I am doing consulting work with Time Inc. That's where I am today, of course the other part of my back ground is, uh, probably even more significant, I think, certainly more rewarding for me and that is, uh, my involvement, uh, with The Arc, uh, and I can tell you a little bit about that.
04:05:06:17 - 04:06:43:22
Lisa: So, even though you lived and worked in many places in the world, I wonder if you could share with me some of your earliest childhood memories growing up here in Philadelphia.
Jim: Sure. We lived in Center City and, uh, I, uh, lived with my, uh, of course my mother and father and, uh, my younger brother, Lowell Wilson and, uh, Lowell was Down Syndrome, and, uh, my dad was, uh, practiced law in the city. Was professor of real estate law at Temple University and, uh, my mother kept the family home and place, and my dad died when I was quite young and Lowell was quite young. I was about 11 years old and Lowell was just six and, uh, my mother, uh, handled the two of us, as she would say, that was a big challenge. And, uh, she was a single parent and, uh, I went to Friends Central School which is out in Overbrook and, uh, in those days, folks like Lowell, uh, could not have access to public education as you know and, uh, therefore we were fortunate. We had, would have, we had the wherewithal at home to have him tutored and, uh, Lowell and I were forever very close. He is gone now, died about ten years ago. He was my best pal for many, many years.
04:06:43:22 - 04:07:53:15
Lisa: Will you tell me a little bit about your parents? Maybe describe them. Um, we know what they did for a living. What were they like as people?
Jim: My father was, uh, an extraordinary fellow. I didn't know him for too long and, uh, he was, uh, was a very erodite, uh, fellow and, uh, he had, uh, extraordinary empathy and sense of kindness. He was a Christian and, uh, had a major impact on me, of course and my mother was, uh, was extraordinary in a different way. She was, uh, a real personality girl, very kind of flamboyant. Uh, both parents were driven parents so I picked up that drive from them. The drive to achieve and accomplish and, uh, of course when Lowell and her die and the family, uh, that was, uh, transforming experience, I think for all of us, particularly for me. And I can tell you a little bit more about that, too.
04:07:53:15 - 04:11:12:09
Lisa: I think we will certainly talk a little bit more about that but, um, I am curious as to your parents experience when Lowell was born, um, you might have been too young to remember but perhaps you remember, um, your parents talking about their experience, um, having a child with Downs Syndrome, um, how did or what were the supports like for your parents, um, when they had Lowell?
Jim: There were no supports, uh, in those days, uh, and, uh, there was no formal education, public education of course or any kind of training. Uh, importantly for me as a child, as a sibling, uh, there was no help, uh, or, uh, support or assistance from the outside. Uh, to, uh, help, uh, siblings, uh, relate so that, that was difficult. Of course it's all changed now. Thankfully we have, uh, certainly at the Arc and, uh, elsewhere we have many support programs for siblings. Uh, but, uh, Lowell was home, he lived with us and, uh, he, uh, fortunately as I mentioned, uh, we had tutors for him and, uh, he was, uh, a major presence in the house and a major focal point, uh, in the house but as my mother always reminded me, I was, uh, as much as a challenge as he was. She would always make that very clear to equalize us, and so I would not get carried away. And, uh, he learned to play the piano, uh, my, uh, mother, after my father died had subscription concerts to The Philadelphia Orchestra for Saturday night and, uh, she would go with him and, uh, if I were in town, I would go along and, uh, he loved music. Music itself was, uh, was, uh, a terrific opportunity for him to learn words, to learn music, uh, to sing songs and, uh, about the age of 13 or 14, uh, Lowell, uh, went to the, to the Walker School which is located , uh, just outside of the city, uh, in Overbrook and, uh, as a residence and, uh, he, uh, had more formal education training, private school and he lived there, uh, but he developed, uh, extraordinarily well. He, uh, worked up at The Philadelphia Arc workshop, uh, he would travel back and forth every day and on weekends, uh, he would, uh, he would come into the city, stay at the , uh, house which was on Smedley Street in Center City, Philadelphia and, uh, we were a tight-knit group and, uh, my mother as a single, uh, parent, uh, was the leader of the family in many respects and, uh, we had a tremendous time together, the three of us.
Lisa: Jim, I wonder, I mean, your brother sounds like an extraordinary man and a gifted man but I wonder because of his disability, did your parents feel the pressure, either by medical professionals or other family members to send Lowell, um, to institutional care when he was born?
Jim: Yes, uh, they did have pressure placed, uh, as I understand, that's told to me. On, uh, I guess both sides of the family there were recommendations, uh, strong recommendations, particularly after my father died, that, uh, Lowell be sent to one of the state schools and hospitals. Of course, uh, that was out of the question. Completely out of the question and, uh, it did not happen, would never of happened and, uh, that, that was, uh, that pressure ended very quickly because my mother made it very clear to those who were pressuring her at the time that, uh, that this was not going to happen.
Lisa: Your mother was quite a force in the advocacy community. I wonder, in the fifties, uh, when your brother was born, um, how she initially became connected with other parents and other advocates?
Jim: I think she became, uh, connected, uh, remember I was quite young then so I was really not aware of all that was happening and, uh, in that respect, uh, but, uh, she connected with parents in the center city area, uh, The Arc of Philadelphia was founded, uh, I believe, uh, in the late forties. She was one of the founders of The Arc, uh, the parents got together and, uh, put The Arc, uh, in place here. The National, Association was founded in Minneapolis for its convention there. As I recall, it was in 1950. She was involved in those events and, uh, she was, uh, a force at The Philadelphia Arc early on. The Philadelphia Association for Retarded Children. That's what it was known of course, then and she was a board member for a number of years. She joined the, uh, ladies auxiliary of the arc and, uh, they would go out. I remember distinctly as a young boy, uh, her going out on the street, on South Broad with her canisters with the other, uh, ladies and these were aggressive, pushy advocates, uh, then. This was a desperate time. This was a time of great desperation because folks of course, uh, who were handicapped up until that point were kind of pushed aside in back rooms. There was no schooling, there was no training. Uh, there was really no acceptance in the community so, these were difficult, hard times and, uh, so they would go out, uh, along South Broad Street. I remember it distinctly, my mother coming back telling me about it with these canisters full of coins and they'd go into restaurants and, and solicit money and, and, uh, walk along the street, uh, with their canisters and, and, uh, with their signs and so forth. That was an experience I remember so well.
04:14:34:04 - 04:16:01:02
Lisa: What would the signs say? What change or what were they hoping to accomplish with their campaigns?
Jim: They were the signs, would be placards, uh, that they would carry and their canisters would have, uh, a signs, uh, around each canister, uh, Philadelphia Association for Retarded Children. Give, donations, and so forth and, uh, the purpose of course would be to create awareness in the community. There was no awareness, whatsoever. The perception of the part of the mass public then was to, uh, for these folks, uh, you put them away from the community, as far away as you could. Of course that harps back to the Greek and Roman days and that was the perception, the mass public perception of how you deal with this and you deal with that kind of, uh, problem. So I think one of the major objective goals was just to create public awareness, uh, at the time and the second of course, was to collect money and they collected a lot of money.
04:16:01:03 - 04:18:28:22
Lisa: Jim, I wanted to ask, um, as a child, when did you notice that Lowell was different or did you notice that Lowell was different from other children his age and did those differences matter to you?
Jim: Well, it was, uh, looking back on it, I didn't realize he was different for, for years and, um, there was a six year age difference between Lowell and myself and , uh, my dad had died and, uh, and my mother was a single parent and the family was a normal family and she did not discuss with me, the fact that, that Lowell was different and, uh, we went along with the understanding that, well, Lowell was just as I was, the same and, uh, I guess it was probably in my, as late as, uh, 12 or 13 years when I began to notice that Lowell was a little different. I remember one experience when we were very young and Lowell was learning to walk and, and, uh, I would sit at one end of the room and, uh, on a chair and Lowell and my mother would sit at, uh, another end or my father and Lowell would kind of off walk back and forth between us but that didn't strike me as any different. Uh, and my mother, uh, and father made the point that this is the case with all young children. This is how they learn to walk. Uh, but I guess it was, uh, 12 or 13, when I really began to notice that, uh, his language development was, uh, was a little slow and I could understand him. Of course, his mother and my mother and father could understand him, uh, but others could not understand him. I could understand him perfectly. I mean, we communicated perfectly. Lowell and myself, uh, but, uh, then it began apparent on my own that Lowell was different and, uh, my mother never really talked much about it because she, I think was trying to create the atmosphere of normalcy in the family, that we were all together, we were the same.
04:18:28:22 - 04:19:48:24
Lisa: You experienced the, the great tragic loss of your father when you were, when you were young. Did you feel at age 11 or 12 that you would need to be responsible for Lowell as you were growing up?
Jim: Absolutely, I, there's no doubt about it. I began to develop that responsibility early on, especially after my father died, I, uh, that sense of responsibility grew and, uh, and so, I played a major role, uh, with Lowell all along. Uh, he had a major impact on my life. There is no doubt about that and, uh, we would go out together often on weekends. I would, uh, go out and take him up to Nippon which was one of the, uh, organizations in North Philadelphia that, uh, provided, uh, a variety of, uh, weekend recreational services, uh, to, uh, these folks and, uh, when we used to go down to, uh, the seashore, uh, together as a family and take a place at the seashore.
04:20:53:10 - 04:22:13:05
Lisa: Jim, I wanted to, ask you if you could share some memories of vacations with your mom and Lowell at the Jersey Shore. Oh, maybe not the Jersey Shore, just the seashore.
Jim: That's right. That's right. Down the shore. Yes, we would go down to the shore, uh, regularly every summer. We would spend a couple months there and, uh, we all had a great time and, uh, I developed a very close bond with Lowell, uh, during those summers. I was probably 11, 12, 13. My dad had just died and my mother would take us down and we would rent a place down there and, uh, we had a terrific time. We had a fabulous time. Lowell and I would go out on the beach together and wonder around on the beach together and go in the water together and at night we would go out on the board walk and, and, uh, uh, I would, uh, go to the steeple chase with him. Remember, he was quite young, about 7 or 8 years old and he loved to ride the fire truck and, and we would go to planters peanuts, uh, and buy a bag of peanuts and then I would go back with him and, uh, those were terrific, uh, times of bonding with Lowell.
More Interview Chapters
- YOU ARE HERE: Family and Early Career
- The ARC of Pennsylvania and Early Advocacy
- The Right to Education and PARC Consent Decree
- The Need for Ongoing Advocacy
About Jim Wilson
Born: 1934, Philadelphia, PA
Publishing Executive. President, Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) 1968-71. President, National Association for Retarded Children (NARC) 1977-79.
PARC, Civil Rights Movement, Tom Gilhool, Dennis Haggerty, Right to Education, Siblings, ARC