Shirley “Red” Wilson ’50

Shirley Schaub “Red” Wilson, 95, passed peacefully on Friday, January 8, 2021, at Hospice Home of Burlington after a long fight with metastatic melanoma.

The only son of John Lee and Georgia Keiger Wilson, Red was born at home in Intelligence, NC, near Madison on September 26, 1925.

Red loved sports as a child, especially baseball. He was lucky enough to own a mitt, a glove, a couple of bats, and several baseballs. The little rural community boys congregated at Red’s house to play the game, perhaps foreshadowing his competitive athletics future. At Madison High School, Red was a three-sport athlete, playing football on a brick-hard dirt field in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball on that same dirt field in the spring.

In addition to his athletic talents, Red was an excellent student who aspired to become a physician just like four of his uncles. He briefly attended Wingate College as the War broke out and then decided to attend UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 1941. Red started as a freshman for the Tar Heels on the war-depleted team. Just three months later, he enlisted in the Navy and drew Corpsman duty, a fitting role for an aspiring future doctor.

Red received his honorable discharge in June 1946 as a Pharmacist’s Mate, Second Class, and immediately sought to take advantage of the GI Bill. He headed straight back to Chapel Hill to play for Snavely, but quickly realized it might be tough to earn a spot since over 300 gridders were trying to make the team.

Red ended up enrolling at Davidson College, where he could play two sports while also pursuing an education that would lead him into medicine. As a Davidson student, he played three years of football and four of baseball. He spent his final year coaching the freshman football team as his football eligibility had expired. All it took was coaching one football season to persuade Red that his calling was to be a coach, and the rest was history.

While at Davidson, Red met Katie Francis in 1947. They married the next year on January 17, 1948, and became inseparable for life. Together he and Katie raised three children, all of whom he was immensely proud.

He was lucky enough to coach their oldest, John, and help him earn a football scholarship to NC State. He was elated to watch his daughter, Cathy, follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in teaching and mentoring young people. And finally, he was proud to see his youngest, Steve, earn his Eagle Scout and later work with him as the Duke football team’s head manager. In their own way, each of his children followed in Red’s footsteps, which was a testament to his inspiring and motivating nature.

Red’s official coaching career began in Selma, NC, where he taught and coached at the local high school. He accomplished two consecutive winning seasons for the school, which were the first wins the school had seen in a while. It quickly became apparent that Red knew how to win as a coach.

One season, after his Reynolds Black Demon team was handily whipped in their opening game by several touchdowns, he exhorted to his players in a dead silent locker room after the game, “We shall lose no more!” And they then won 11 straight games and the state title. He compiled an impressive resume including a women’s basketball regional championship in Henderson, NC; football conference championships in Selma, NC, Henderson, NC, and South Norfolk, VA; two state championships, two runners-up champions, and two playoff berths at Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC; and another runner-up championship at Fayetteville Senior High.

His successes did not stop with football —Red also produced many successful swimming teams and golf teams at Reynolds. One of the highlights of his high school coaching days was his last high school game, the NC-SC Shrine bowl in 1966, when his team scored 35 points in the second half to win the game. The feat remains a Shrine Bowl record for the most points ever scored in a single half.

A lifelong learner, Red returned to UNC-Chapel Hill to earn his Master’s in Education and a principal’s certificate. He later did post-graduate work on an RJ Reynolds Tobacco Fellowship in psychology at the University of Colorado. His unwavering Christian faith kept Red grounded throughout his professional and academic careers. Red served as an elder at three churches and attended services if he was physically able. Whether Red was in school, on the field, or at home, he truly lived the Golden Rule every day.

Red transitioned to coaching at the collegiate level in January 1967 when he became Head Coach and Athletic Director at Elon College. Red expanded all intercollegiate sports at Elon from women’s sports to the addition of track and field and wrestling. He became the winningest football coach in Elon history over his ten-year tenure, garnishing many accolades. He went on to join the Duke Blue Devils in 1977 as head recruiter, quarterback and JV team coach. His JV team won all their games that first year.

Within two years, Red took over as the Blue Devils’ head coach. While at Duke, he was able to turn the team around and went on to earn back-to-back winning seasons during his last two years. That final season was book-ended with memorable wins over ranked opponents, Tennessee to start and UNC at season’s end.

Duke’s President, Terry Sanford, offered Red a position at Duke Medical Center. There Red enjoyed an outstanding career in patient relations and fund-raising. Red made such an impact throughout his time at the Medical Center that the University named the Human Performance Laboratory at the Duke Center for Living after him upon his retirement. This gesture was a final tribute to Red for his years of service and helping others.

Although Red achieved great success as a coach and teacher, he was always more than that; he was the ultimate motivator who encouraged everyone to reach beyond their dreams. Whether he was ‘coaching’ an athletic team, a medical team, or even his own family, his message was the same: always stay positive and do not let failures define you. Red’s motivation, hard work, faith, and a fierce belief in the untapped abilities of others made it easy to love and look up to him.

Red’s optimistic spirit and winning attitude were gifts to everyone who had the honor of knowing him and led him to many accolades. He was inducted into the NC Sports Hall of Fame, the Davidson College Sports Hall of Fame, the Elon College Sports Hall of Fame, and the RJ Reynolds High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Red received the Alamance County Sports Development Council Distinguished Service Award, the Johnny Vaught Head Coach Award of the All-American Football Foundation, and the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame’s Bill Dooley Chapter Award for Outstanding Contribution to Football.

Red served on the NC Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health. He was awarded an Honorary Life Membership in the NC Football Coaches Association, the Order of the Longleaf Pine by former NC Governor Jim Hunt, and the Elon College Medallion.

Red’s greatest accomplishment, though, was his family – his beloved wife, Katie, of nearly 73 years; his three children; 6 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. When Katie died, he yearned to reunite with her to complete life’s great circle.

In addition to his parents and wife Katie, Red was predeceased by his sister, Beverly Wilson Robertson, and his nephew, Richard Robertson, MD. Surviving are his children: John Wilson (Deborah), Vass, NC; Cathy Wilson Koontz (Craig), Lexington, NC; Steve Wilson (Laura), Richmond, VA; grandchildren: Whitney Wilson-Botts, Erin Wilson, Catherine Koontz Rogers, MD (John), Wilson Koontz, Taylor Wilson (Rainey), and Carolyn Wilson; great-granddaughter, Ainsley Botts; niece, Martha Robertson Martin (Wallace) and four grandnieces/nephews.

The family invites friends to Rich and Thompson Funeral Home, Burlington, NC, on January 16, 2021, 11:00 am to noon to pay respects and a graveside ceremony at Magnolia Cemetery Elon, NC, at 1 pm. A celebration of Red and Katie’s lives will be held later after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Red Wilson Athletic Scholarship, Office of University Advancement, Elon University, Campus Box 2600, Elon, NC 27244, or First Presbyterian Church Memorial Fund, 508 W. Davis Street, Burlington, NC 27215. Condolences may be left at

Published by Winston-Salem Journal on Jan. 13, 2021.