You man not know his name, but if you have lived in or been to Wichita Falls in the past 3 decades, you have seen his legacy. Mark Wilson was an emergency manager for the City of Wichita Falls during and after the Terrible Tuesday tornado outbreak in 1979. He passed away in a car accident over the weekend.
Researchers have said without the policies Wilson oversaw during Terrible Tuesday, there could have been more than 2000 fatalities. "It was awful. I hope that hell is not worse than that if it is, a lot of us have some hard times ahead. It was a hard time… It was a terrible 2 or 3 years after that and the work that Mark did helped a lot," said former Mayor Charles Harper.
Harper recounts working with Wilson in the aftermath. He says Wilson worked to increase the level of severe weather warning in the Falls. Wilson worked to strengthen the tornado siren system and helped coordinate storm spotter networks around Texoma. "He was very innovative in getting out alerts," said former supervisor Jan Stricklin.
Colleagues said Wilson had the perfect personality for the job. "Mark was a person that liked people and he was very concerned when he saw someone that was hurting so that made him ideal for the job that he took on and that was helping the city get through emergencies and all kinds of things like that that happened to cities," said Harper.
Public warning was not the only policy Wilson pioneered. "Mark prepared the city so we wouldn't be so out in the cold when another disaster happened," recalled Harper. He developed a plan to restore emergency power, provide coordination of emergency medical services and other community resources during a disaster. He also put anti price-gouging rules into place with measures to help prevent people getting ripped-off during the rebuild process.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took note of his work. The agency featured him and his emergency procedures in their 1984 documentary Terrible Tuesday. "If the tornado or disaster actually strikes our city, were certainly going to be calling upon the American Red Cross the broadcast communications and the church and community groups will be interfacing," Wilson is seen explaining in the film.
Mark Wilson's professional accomplishments are only overshadowed by his personal relationships with friends and family. "He was a very kind person," said Stricklin. "He was funny, loving and caring family was everything, kids always loved him, whether it was neighborhood kids or friends, I think the only reason I had friends was because they liked being around my daddy," said his daughter, Pamela Koehn.
His family loved being around him, too. "They all liked to mess his hair up and play around with him, and he acted like he didn't like it, but he would egg it on sometimes he really loved his grand kids," said Daughter-In-Law Lawanda Wilson. "He loved big family meals; he just loved all of the family being together at those times… He was the patriarch of the family; he was the rock of the family, especially after his wife died… He loved big family meals, he just loved all of the family being together at those times," she said.
As the family gathered from near and far to prepare to lay him to rest, many memories came to mind. Granddaughter Jessica Wilson was teary-eyed as she remembered the man she called "Bapa". "When I was really little he used to read me this golden book I think it was and it talked about going to grandma and grandpas house… I ask him to read me that book over and over again he never once said no, he just picked up the book and read it to me," she said.
Wilson went on to serve the City of Plano, TX in a similar role after he left Wichita Falls in 1987. Still, his legacy here will remain. "Mark will be missed and I will always remember the work that he did during the tornado and the 10 or 15 years after the actual tornado," said Harper.
Services are set for 10:30 Friday morning at Faith Lutheran on Southwest Parkway. Interment will follow in Plano.
If you have a memory of Mark Wilson you would like to share, click on the comments section below this story. You can view the 1984 documentary Terrible Tuesday by clicking here.