Pleasanton Weekly

Column - January 15, 2010

Dee Wilson: A big man with a heart of gold

by Jeb Bing

Dee Wilson, who was Pleasanton's oldest statesman when he died last Monday at the age of 90, was a special friend to all who knew him over the six decades he and his wife Shirley lived in Pleasanton, where they raised their four children. I knew him for only a few of those years. From the time this giant of a man -- physically as well as his heart of gold -- grabbed my hand with firmness I still remember, we became friends. A real estate developer who with his partner Louie Costanza built numerous residential subdivisions, apartments and commercial shopping centers in Union City and Fremont, he was best known in Pleasanton where he built over 400 homes, including those in Mission Park behind the office building on Sunol Boulevard, where the Pleasanton Weekly is located. He was a partner with the late George Spiliotopolous in the Cheese Factory in Santa Cruz and at the San Francisco Airport. He also participated in many projects and developments with his many "friends in town." He was always an honest, hardworking contributor in whatever he did. You could do business with Dee on a handshake.

A World War II naval veteran, Wilson was stationed in the Solomon Islands preparing for the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing the war to an end. After returning home, he attended San Jose State University, majoring in business and, later, Lincoln Law School in Oakland.

In 1966, Wilson and his wife Shirley came to Pleasanton to watch their son in a track meet. They liked the city and decided to move here in 1967. He served the community and region in numerous capacities, including two years as a BART Director (1973-1975); eight years on the Planning Commission (1978-1986); two years on the City Council (1986-1988), and 36 years as a director of the Alameda County Fair Board, serving two years as president.

He was a member of the Alameda County One Hundred Club since its inception in 1971, a board member of the George A. Spiliotopoulos Invitational Golf Tournament since its inception, a founding member in 1987 of the Pleasanton Men's Club and a long-time member of the Alameda County Honorary Deputy Sheriffs Association.

A few of those who served with him were pallbearers at yesterday's funeral mass for Dee Wilson, which was held at St. Augustine Catholic Church. They were Frank Capilla, John Ferrari, Bob Philcox, Brad Hirst, Ted Fairfield, Ken Mercer, Tony Macchiano and Frank Brandes. It was quite a distinguished group: three ex-mayors, a former county commissioner, a plumber, a garbage company owner, an engineer and a real estate developer. All of them at least 15 years younger than Dee who would have been in high school when they were born, these close friends and their diverse professional and political interests showed the breadth of his involvement in Pleasanton affairs.

Described as intelligent, at times a grouch and very savvy businessman, Dee had a wonderful sense of humor. He was also a determined leader who kept the best interests of Pleasanton at the forefront of everything he did. When he developed housing in the Gates neighborhood in land he acquired behind the Century House on Santa Rita Road, he spared that historic house, restored it and gave it to the city as a park. When City Council meetings were disrupted in the meeting room it used at the Fairgrounds because of a leaky roof, Dee and his friends built as a gift to the city the council chambers that are still used, attached to the Civic Center. When he and his family moved into their new home on Foothill Road, near Bernal, in the 1980s, he acquired two lots and, with a hired hand, farmed 2-1/2 acres with all kinds of fruits and trees, including field of tomatoes that he packaged and gave away to hundreds.

He was also instrumental in the founding of a youth activity center at what is currently the Gingerbread Preschool. He was a recipient of the Pleasanton Firefighters' Award in 1974, the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award and the Western Fair Association Blue Ribbon Award, both in 2006, and he was also a recipient of the Mayor's Award.

Born in Oakland on Aug. 3, 1919 to Charles and Agnes Wilson, DeWitt Wilson is survived by Shirley, his wife of more than 60 years, and two of their four children: Tom Wilson of Capitola and Karen Williams of Santa Cruz. He was preceded in death by their two sons David and Robert Wilson. He also leaves seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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