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Neal Wilson’s Matchless Science of Human Relationships

I have no clear recollection of the first time I met Neal. Going back in memory it seems that I have always known him, always considered him a friend and always viewed him as a fellow devotee of the game of tennis. Over the years of our friendship we spent many hours on the court, sometimes as opponents; more often as partners. For one who spent so much of his time away from home, living in hotel rooms and moving from country to country, unable to maintain a settled routine, Neal was a remarkably gifted athlete, His very considerable tennis prowess would return after only 20-30 minutes on the court even if he had not played for many months. I once gave him, as a present, a device to practice his serves in hotel rooms hoping that the next time we played as partners he would double-fault less often (Neal was by no means “faultless” on the tennis court!).

Neal and Robert Pierson (General Conference President at the time) often came to the campus of Loma Linda University in the early years when the move to Loma Linda had just been completed and the medical school structure was still being formed. As a department chair I was selected as the faculty representative to negotiate with Neal the provisions of the document that would regulate the way in which the clinical faculty set up their medical practices. During the negotiation process, when Neal disagreed, he would typically say, “I don’t think the board will be supportive of the wording of Section ____. When, on the other hand, he thought that a provision of the document was quite acceptable he would say,”I can support Section____”. When this difference in terminology penetrated my consciousness I could not resist pointing out to Neal how his choice of who would bear the responsibility for a decision differed according to whether the answer was to be “yes” or “no”. He laughed and the negotiations proceeded apace from that point on.

There was a Geoscience Research Institute (GRI) field trip in the early 60s with a remarkable group of Adventist stalwarts in attendance. I was privileged to ride in a car with F. D. Nichol and Arthur White. When we reached Yellowstone Park I was paired with Neal on the rainy day that we waded through the ice-cold Lamar River and climbed the cliffs of the Fossil Forest. Our assignment was to count tree rings on the largest tree that we could identify in each of the 20 or so layers of volcanic ash forming the deposit. Given that it was raining heavily and that we had just waded through a river, both of us were soaking wet by the time we reached the cliff face. Neal was unfazed; he approached the assigned task—he counted, I recorded— with his characteristic unbridled enthusiasm. I, far younger than Neal, came down with pneumonia 36 hours later; he emerged unscathed.

To my mind, Neal’s most remarkable ability was his skill at managing meetings. I remember him stepping to the podium at a time when an LLU Quinquennial Constituency had descended into chaos. He deftly assumed command of the proceedings from the hapless chair and brought everything back to order within minutes. Some years later on one memorable weekend in the Pacific Northwest, Neal chaired a planning commission for a GC Institution (not LLU!). The positions taken by those present were disparate in the extreme. Not surprisingly, the discussion was heated. For close to 20 hours over a three day period, Neal chaired that group without ever once tipping his hand as to whom he supported and with whom he disagreed. To this day I cannot guess what he might have confided to his diary each night—had he kept one.

A final memory takes me back to the first GC sponsored Faith and Science Conference. It was held in Ogden, Utah in the summer of 2002. I was asked by the Organizing Committee to read a paper on “What I find Attractive about a Long Chronology”. I agreed. At the conclusion of the paper Neal was the first member of the audience to comment. While he made it very clear that he disagreed with my conclusions he also vigorously defended my right to report on my understanding of the science involved. He went on to give a personal testimony as to my character and lifelong commitment to Adventist education. I am quite certain that as a result of Neal’s endorsement, those who subsequently criticized my relatively unwelcome presentation were more muted and more circumspect than they might otherwise have been.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church lost a giant; I have lost a friend.


Brian Bull, M.D., is chair of the Pathology and Human Anatomy department at the School of Medicine at Loma Linda University.

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