GALLIPOLIS — “Knowing him made me a better person. He made this a better community.”
These were words spoken by Bob Gordon, a lifelong Gallia County resident and close friend to the late Stephen L. Wilson, on Thursday during a rededication ceremony at the Gallia County 911 Center.
Gordon, who was just one of the many friends who gathered on Thursday afternoon in memory of Wilson, was but one of the few who was honored to speak about their friendship with Wilson during the ceremony rededicating the communications center in honor of its first director.
Wilson, himself a lifelong Gallia County resident, served as a longtime police and fire dispatcher prior to serving as Director of the Gallia County 911 Communication Center, located on Ohio 160, from its inception in 1997 until his unexpected passing on November 4, 2009.
While Wilson was well known for his work in emergency communications and was instrumental in the development of Gallia County 911 system, Gordon was not the only person present during the somber ceremony to speak of Wilson’s upstanding character and influence in their lives.
“I appreciated and still appreciate my friendship with Steve,” Gordon stated during his remarks. “He gave himself freely not only to me, but to my family. Steve reserved the highest honor for his family. It is no wonder that he is still revered to this day by his mother and his father, his brother and his sister, nephews and extended family members.”
Speaking to Wilson’s integrity and devotion to his friends, Gordon further challenged those friends and family gathered to truly honor Wilson’s memory through their values and their own dedication to their friends and their community.
“I challenge each of you, if you truly respect the memory of Steve Wilson, honor him by striving to do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable,” Gordon said. “Do the right thing even when those around you choose not to stand with you. Do the right thing, especially, when there is no apparent reward for your efforts. For the true reward is in knowing that you took a stand within your community and remain firm, true and just.”
Also to speak during Thursday’s somber ceremony was Steve’s close friend, Bob Cornwell.
“I think we on earth are measured. We’re measured usually after we’ve left this earth by the legacy that we’ve left. Today, I consider the legacy that Steve has left in having this center and the professional staff that has carried on since his passing. It’s a legacy that saves lives everyday and I think people sometimes overlook that impact,” Cornwell said.
Cornwell also spoke of the many hours he and Wilson spent talking about the issues of the day within and outside of the community, as well as the invaluable advice Wilson provided not only to him personally, but to the host of friends whose respect and love he earned throughout his life.
“Steve, as a friend, was a person who was my counsel,” Cornwell said. “He was counsel for a lot of people and it was often that we didn’t want to hear his advice. We didn’t agree with it, but when the day ended, we always realized that his wisdom was far superior than ours and he was right in the long run, and that legacy that I talked about that he’s left, it guides me through my life and it guides many other people’s life everyday.”
Cornwell, who spoke of the memories of Wilson that he will carry always, briefly spoke of the rededication of the building in which Wilson put so much of himself — the building that will now forever carry his name.
“It’s an honor that we dedicate a building to him. We don’t do that lightly. We don’t put names on monuments, we don’t put names on buildings, lightly, but for the greatness that the person provides,” he said. “I know that there is an emptiness in my heart and certainly a bigger emptiness in Junior and Bev’s, and Brenda and Keith’s and the rest of his family and the rest of us friends, but Steve’s legacy will carry on. We will remember him forever.”
Current Gallia County Commission President Harold Montgomery, who was also serving a commission president during the original dedication of the 911 center on December 4, 1997, also maintained both a personal as well as a professional relationship with Wilson, and, during his remarks, discussed the struggles involved in establishing the county’s 911 center some 15 years ago and Wilson dedication in perfecting the new system.
“We had a lot of issues here, a lot of problems in bringing this thing together as a unit for the county, but Steve, he worked with the police department, the sheriff and all the emergency agencies and got everyone on board, and it was a community event in establishing this 911 system,” Montgomery stated.
The commission president also discussed the model that the Gallia County 911 Center has become thanks to the hard work of Wilson and the dedicated group of dispatchers who helped establish the center.
“Steve always had the instinct to look ahead, to look into the future, so to speak, and he looked into the future when he was establishing the internal parts of this 911 center. He was very proud of this center. He dedicated his life to it. He lived it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He was very proud to show it off,” Montgomery said. “We had many counties from all over the state, and in parts of West Virginia and Kentucky view the system. I think the vendors that put the equipment in here, if they would have questions, they would always tell their clients, ‘go down to Gallia County and see what Steve Wilson has done.’ This center was a model and it still remains that today, and it was all for the safety and the well being of the citizens of Gallia County.”
Also during his remarks, Montgomery, along with his fellow commissioners David K. Smith and Brent Saunders, presented Wilson’s family with a proclamation in honor of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week and establishing the 911 Center as the “Stephen L. Wilson 911 Center.”
“We’ve miss Steve and we are going to miss Steve, but it is my humble hope that with the renaming of this building, we will always remember him,” Montgomery said.
Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning, who worked with Wilson even during his earliest days in law enforcement as a corrections officer, also expressed his appreciation of the late 911 director, his involvement in establishing the center, as well as the behind-the-scenes work of all the county’s dispatchers.
“I hope that his family today recognized the honor and the tribute that we pay to him because we really appreciate what he has done for us, and we appreciate all the dispatchers that work here at the 911 center,” Browning said. “We could not accomplish our mission if it wasn’t for them being behind the scenes. They are truly the unsung heroes when it comes to responding to emergencies and with what we are trying to do in law enforcement and in emergency response.”
Current Gallia County 911 Center Director Sherry Daines was the last to speak during Thursday’s ceremony.
Daines, who was hired as a dispatcher with the City of Gallipolis in 1985, was trained by Wilson in dispatching.
“As this day was approaching I spent a lot of time thinking about all that he meant to me and to my family,” Daines said. “Steve was my trainer and he taught me everything that he could possibly teach anyone. … He took me under his wing and we quickly became very good friends. It was just like we were all a family.”
When the county’s 911 center opened in 1997, Wilson asked Daines to make the move with him, to serve as his deputy director and assistant — a position she held until Wilson’s death in 2009 when she stepped in as the center’s director.
“When he was hired as the 911 Director here he asked me to come with him, and it was all about teamwork,” Daines said. “We worked as a team for several years and I think he would very pleased to see what we’ve done here today, and I agree with everybody else, he would say, ‘you are making too much of a fuss,’ but I’m proud to be a part of this, I’m proud for the teaching that he gave me, that he was patient, and we didn’t always agree on everything, but that is what friends are about. You can be friends and you don’t agree all the time, but at the end of the day, you’re still friends. That’s what important.”
Daines also took time to thank her team of dispatchers, as well as the current deputy director, Wilson’s brother, Keith, and, lastly, as with Wilson’s other friends who spoke before her, Daines commented on Wilson’s dedication to his community.
“He would’ve have done anything that he could to make the community safer and to make it better,” Daines said.