NORTH KINGSTOWN – Family, friends and local business owners are mourning the loss of lifelong North Kingstown resident and community member Paul Wilson, who passed away on Thursday, Jan. 2.
Paul, who passed away at the age of 90, was a father, husband and the owner of Wilson’s of Wickford, a clothing store in the village that remained open for more than 70 years. Paul owned and operated Wilson’s for many years before his retirement–and before the store was closed in 2015.
After graduating from North Kingstown High School in 1947 and the University of Rhode Island in 1953, Paul also served stateside in the United States Army.
For more than 40 years, Paul was also a member of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce.
Kristin Urbach, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said that Paul was the type of person who was always helping behind the scenes, without ever taking the credit.
“He was a member of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce for more than 40 years,” Urbach said. “He was the type of person […] who would do a lot behind the scenes, not wanting attention.”
Karla Driscoll, the former executive director of the chamber, said she was convinced that Paul was the first person to pay for and install the Welcome to Wickford signs in town.
“She was convinced that Paul paid for the Welcome to Wickford signs to be installed and never told anybody,” Urbach explained. “He just never wanted credit for all of the great things he did for the community. I’ve talked to some people who worked with him at Wilson’s that said he was so compassionate and treated everybody like family.”
And after Wilson’s of Wickford was closed, Urbach, who started her position as the chamber’s executive director about five years ago, said Paul still remained active at the chamber, coming in regularly to check up on the businesses and community-at-large.
“When I started here, after they closed Wilson’s, he would come by quarterly to check-in and see how the chamber was doing and how the business community was doing,” Urbach said. “He really cared about the businesses, the people and the community.”
“We will miss him and his visits,” she continued. “His presence will always be felt as he was a pillar in the community.”
When it was announced that Wilson’s of Wickford would be closing a few years ago, the community jumped to help the Wilson family, with a crowdfunding effort raising nearly $150,000 to keep the store open. While the thousands of donations weren’t enough to keep Wilson’s open, it was a clear indication of what Paul, his family and their store meant to the community.
“He should be commended for being able to stay in the retail arena for 70 years,” Urbach said. “To transform yourself each decade […] is really difficult. It’s really remarkable what he’s done. He should be commended for staying in the community for so many years.”
On top of his effect on the Wickford business community, Paul was also an active communicant of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wickford and a supporter of Episcopal Charities of Rhode Island. He was also an avid sports fan and athlete himself, championing North Kingstown youth sports programs at both the recreational and interscholastic levels.
Paul leaves several children, including James, Richard, Christopher, Craig and stepdaughter Sara Lawson Viener, as well as 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
On Tuesday, James said that, in many respects, his father was his role model.
“He was probably a role model for other folks as well,” James added.
He also said that Paul led by example.
“He was a person who led and talked by example. His priorities were God, family, the store, community and country,” James said. “In the family, we all grew up being reminded very consistently to treat everybody the way you would like to be treated yourself.”
“For him, those priorities weren’t for some of the times,” James concluded. “His goal was for them to always be [his priorities].”