Ernest J. Wilson, 1924-2019

Ernest J. Wilson
Ernest J. Wilson, 1924-2019. Photo provided

WALPOLE, N.H. – Ernest Jackson Wilson was born Nov. 5, 1924, in Athol, Mass. to Aldace and Mary (Holland) Wilson. They soon moved to Franklin, where Ernie attended local schools, graduating from Franklin High School. The family raised chickens and sold eggs, and he ate so much chicken during the depression that his choice of entree later was always “anything but chicken.” He learned to drive at the age of 7, helping his father on the farm in a 1924 Dodge coupe converted to a truck, and his earliest jobs were delivering eggs on his bicycle and packing baby chicks for shipment around the country. As a teenager, he drove a laundry truck and delivered groceries for the IGA. Summertime found him on his grandfather’s farm in East Dover, Vt., riding the horses on back roads and spending time with cousins, aunts, and uncles.

During his first semester of college at Boston University, he turned 18 and enlisted in the Army Air Forces in World War II. He trained at various bases including Biloxi, Miss., and New Orleans where he developed his lifelong love of traditional jazz, traveling to Bourbon Street to hear the greatest musicians in the world. He was accepted to flight school but just before he was to leave, his company shipped out for Europe. Rather than becoming a pilot as he had intended, he spent the majority of the war in England and France on air bases as an M.P., guarding and protecting airfields.

After the war, he returned to Boston University, hurrying through his degree in three years, to earn a B.S. in business administration. His first job after graduating was selling farm equipment for General Mills. Weighing a scant 120 pounds himself, he had to spend part of the day unloading 100-pound bags of feed. Deciding that the employment opportunities in the Midwest would be better than in Boston, he lit out for Chicago. Shortly thereafter he landed a job at the Hartford Insurance Company, where he would spend the next 33 years. In 1953, he was running a manager training program, and a young college graduate named Janet Charn came to work for him. Within a month they had their first date, within three months they were engaged, and within nine months they were married, on June 12, 1954. His career with Hartford Insurance took them to Dallas, Texas, back to the Chicago area, and then to the home office in Hartford, Conn. He rose to vice president of the company and they built a house in Simsbury, where they spent 19 years, before moving to Walpole, N.H. in 1989.

Choosing early retirement from the Hartford in 1981, Ernie and Janet began their second career, launching retail stores specializing in cards, gifts, and fine chocolates. In time they had seven stores throughout New England, from the Particular Shop in Simsbury, Conn. to Chocolate Plus in Hanover, N.H., finally closing the last one, Wilson’s Ltd, in Brattleboro, Vt. in 1995.

There were many jazz musicians he loved throughout his long life – Oscar Peterson, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and Ella Fitzgerald in particular – and he was a talented trumpeter and harmonica player himself. He was an outdoorsman who loved to camp in the woods as a child, and spent years camping with his wife and children throughout the country. He could eat more pancakes than people twice his size – always traveling with his own jug of real maple syrup, just in case – and he never said no to ice cream in his life. An avid reader, he was considered an expert on European and U.S. history, devouring nonfiction books about American politics through the centuries. His interest in family genealogy took him to nearly every cemetery in Vermont, and even to Upholland, England, tracing his roots with his cousin Mary Lou (Holland) Raymo.

Ernie loved traveling with his wife throughout the world. Some of their favorite memories were of trips in the Canadian Rockies, throughout England, down the Rhine, up the coast of Norway on a mail boat, to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and into mainland China. But the place he loved most was the deck of their home in Walpole, looking out toward the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Ernie was the kindest and most gentlemanly man most people ever met. He was also a shrewd investor, a wise advisor to his children and grandchildren, and a man of the utmost integrity. He was adored, and very nearly worshipped, by his family and many close friends. His sense of humor was a delight and he loved nothing more than teasing his wife, or watching someone else in the family tease her – it brought a twinkle to his eye every time.

His calm and loving presence will be dearly missed by his beloved wife of 64 years, Janet; son Scott Wilson and his wife Deanna of Grantham, N.H.; daughter Rennie Washburn and her husband David of West Chesterfield, N.H.; grandchildren Nicole Cusick-Wahl (Jay), Ryan Washburn (Sarah), Casey Hartford (Adam), Sean Cullen (Megan), Morgan Randrup Jr., Emily Randrup, and Andrew Wilson; great-grandchildren Griffin, Hazel, Tucker, Miles, and Penelope; nephew Robert Wood (Sue) of Findlay, Ohio; nieces Mary Beth Smith (Kenneth) of New Orleans, Leslie Rennie-Hill (Kenton) of Portland, Ore., and Nancy Manafort of West Hartford, Conn.; and numerous cousins. He was predeceased by his parents, sisters Eleanor Wood (Thomas) and Nella Watson (Ross), sister-in-law Joyce Hawk (Wayne), and son-in-law Morgan Randrup.

There will be no calling hours. A celebration of his life will be held at First Congregational Church, Walpole, Saturday, March 16 at 10:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to First Congregational Church, P.O. Box 393, Walpole, NH, 03608, or to Kurn Hattin Homes, P.O. Box 127, Westminster, VT, 05158.

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