A good century: Conyers man celebrates 100th birthday

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

CONYERS -- As a toddler, William Farmer Wilson traveled in a horse and buggy to go visit his grandparents. By the time he reached retirement age, he had appeared on television and radio educating the public on the latest agricultural news as part of his job with the Cooperative Extension Service.

"I had the privilege of seeing the advancement of agriculture, of seeing it move from hand harvesting to machine harvesting, and everything in between," said Wilson from his Conyers home.

Known to his friends and family as a true Southern gentleman, Wilson turns 100 this Thanksgiving Day. Conyers Presbyterian Church, his home church for decades, recently held a gathering to celebrate, and guests donated close to $900 to the church in Wilson's honor.

Born Nov. 25, 1910, Wilson spent his early years in Virginia and attended a one-room school house with a wood burning stove. He graduated from a North Carolina high school in May 1928, just in time to plant tobacco for the season.

In order to pay for tuition at North Carolina State of the University of North Carolina at Raleigh, Wilson sold a $40 steer and signed a promissory note. He earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural education, while taking classes not only in North Carolina but also abroad at the University of Manila, Philippine Islands.

Having been a member of the ROTC program, Wilson was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry and served in the U.S. Army Reserves. He obtained a job teaching high school level agriculture, science, math and biology, and eventually became principal of the school.

During the height of the Depression between the years of 1932 and 1934, Wilson met his wife-to-be, Margaret Hudson, a Conyers native. She worked as a social worker helping allocate provisions for poor families. Wilson happened to be delivering the food.

"That's how we met, over a basket of beans," said Wilson with a smile.

The two married in 1935. Margaret. Wilson continued her job in social services while Mr. Wilson went on to be appointed assistant county agent for the Extension Service in Rockingham, N.C.

During his time as an extension agent, Wilson directed countywide terracing programs and helped develop the 4-H program, starting the county's first 4-H Community Leaders program. He also served as the first farm and home development agent.

Wilson took to the airwaves to deliver his Extension Service messages. He educated the public about agriculture through shows aired on three radio and two television stations, plus he wrote a column for the newspaper.

"That was part of the fun," said Wilson.

With the exception of serving five years on active duty during World War II, Wilson held the Extension Service position from 1936 until his retirement in 1959.

In 1971, the couple moved to Mrs. Wilson's family homestead in Conyers, where they built their retirement home. Wilson continued to stay active in the community, taking on leadership and educational roles at Conyers Presbyterian Church. He was also a member of the Rockdale County Historical Society.

After Mrs. Wilson's death in 1998, Mr. Wilson married a long-time family friend, Ruth Durham Lucas. The couple has been married for 12 years and live in Conyers.

Wilson said the secret to a long life is keeping church and family first. He said he's also been blessed with two devoted wives.

"I had a wonderful wife and now I've been lucky enough to have two," he said. "The older I get, the more enjoyable life becomes."