John F. (Jack) Wilson

December 23, 1922 - November 27, 2019
Service Date:
Friday, December 6, 2019 11:00 AM
Service Location:

St. Vincent de Paul

1375 East Spring Lane, Salt Lake City

John F. (Jack) Wilson, beloved husband and father, passed away peacefully on Nov. 27 at St. Mark’s Hospital.

Jack was a healer, a meticulous researcher, pilot, skier, lover of languages and of all things Irish. His life began in humble circumstances, but through hard work, scholarship and faith, he achieved his goals of becoming a physician and patriarch to a large family.

Jack traced his interest in medicine to a childhood fall, suffering a cut on his elbow that subsequently became infected. His interaction with the professionals who treated him made a strong and lasting impression.

By the end of his career, Jack was listed as an author on 40 research papers, including groundbreaking research on non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. From 1975 to 1983, he was the pathologist of record for the Children’s Cancer Study Group, a network of 30 hospitals and pediatric departments striving to improve treatment of childhood cancers. Jack personally reviewed 600 lymphoma cases in a landmark study that established a relationship between the microscopic classification of cancer cells and the effectiveness of various treatment programs. As a result of the group’s work, the survival rate for children with widespread lymphoma rose from 31 to 74 percent.

Prior to his work with the cancer study group, Jack documented a connection between a puzzling anemia in infants and the consumption of homogenized, pasteurized cow’s milk. That research led to a re-evaluation of the age at which babies should be introduced to cow’s milk.

In 1988, in recognition of his research and his work as director of laboratories at Primary Children’s Medical Center, Jack received the Distinguished Service to Healthcare Award from the Utah Hospital Association.

Jack was born Dec. 23, 1922, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Anna Louise Prows Wilson and John Francis “Frank” Wilson. Three years later, he became older brother to Edward, known as “Bud.” The family moved numerous times as a worsening economy forced job changes for Jack’s dad. By 1932, as he entered 5th grade, Jack had been to four grade schools in the U.S. and Canada. That turbulence instilled a lifelong appreciation for education, as well as his Catholic faith. A highlight of his high school education was playing football for Weeb Eubank, who was married to his mother’s niece, and who later coached the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets.

Upon graduation in 1940, there was no money for college. Jack went to work for American Airlines where, over the next five years, he washed planes, handled baggage, became an operations agent and learned to fly. He was recruited by the airline to help with Army Air Corps operations and was assigned to the Air Transport Command in Natal, Brazil, where he developed a lifelong love of Portuguese.

By 1945, Jack had begun thinking seriously about a career in medicine. He had been able to save enough money for tuition and later that year enrolled in the University of Cincinnati. A year later, he transferred to Xavier University, run by the Jesuits. In 1946, he had a chance encounter with Florence M. Gibb, who greeted him with a “hi, Jack” at a bus stop. He didn’t remember her, although they had met earlier at a dance at Mount St. Joseph College, where Flo was a student. Jack later liked to joke that he had been “hijacked.” In 1950, they married, and less than a year later welcomed their first child. In 1952, Jack was awarded his M.D. from the University of Cincinnati.

Jack was drafted into the Army in 1953, serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Army Airborne division. Following his service, he completed a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in hematology, after which he and Flo made plans to move their growing family (now numbering five children) to Salt Lake City. One of his favorite stories from this time was being summoned to the office of Albert Sabin, who developed the oral vaccine for polio, and with whom Jack worked at The Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. Jack was unnerved by the summons, but Sabin only wanted to give him five doses of the vaccine, which was not yet commercially available, so his kids would be protected from polio.

Once in Utah, Jack treated patients at the Salt Lake County Hospital and taught at the University of Utah School of Medicine, while also engaged in research on childhood blood diseases. In the mid-1960s, Jack decided to pursue training as a pediatric pathologist, a career change that eventually prompted him and several colleagues to establish a pathology laboratory at Primary Children’s Hospital, which he directed for more than 15 years.

When Jack semi-retired in 1987, he was lauded by one colleague as “a most noble blend of true friend, gifted teacher, concerned physician, devoted husband, loving father and faithful servant.”

But he will also be remembered as a brilliant diagnostician and peerless researcher.

Jack and Florence eventually became parents to eight rambunctious children, whom they raised in accordance with Catholic teachings. Their faith was the bedrock of their marriage, and for many years after their children were grown, they would attend daily Mass.

After retirement, Jack became a devoted amateur genealogist, eventually writing five books about his and Flo’s family histories. In the process, he discovered he was part Irish, which led to numerous trips to Ireland, membership in the Utah Hibernian Society and purchase of an Irish harp, on which he became quite proficient.

He remained a scholar until the end of his life, even while macular degeneration robbed him of sight. His life was a model of hard work, learning, love and faith, a legacy which he passed down to his eight children, and their children.

Survivors include his beloved wife, Florence; children, John (Lynn); Anne (Con) Psarras; Sarah (Rick) Miller; Madeline (Bill) Grieder; Timothy (Marianne); Margaret (R.J.) Chleboski; Peter (Marian); and Jean; 16 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Preceded in death by his cherished grandchildren Kimberly Wilson and Michael Miller.

A viewing will be held on Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 1375 East Spring Lane, Salt Lake City. Those who wish to pray with his family are welcome to a Vigil and Rosary at 5:30 pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday, Dec 6, 2019 at 11:00 am, also at the church. He will be laid to rest at Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery.

Special thanks to the staff at The Ridge Cottonwood, and the caring professionals from Canyons Hospice, for their tender care of Jack.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Catholic Foundation of Utah, 27 C St., Salt Lake City 84103.