Jim Wilson III: How UA System honored late trustee, builder of Alabama football dynasty

TUSCALOOSA, AL  |  November 3, 2023 – Before UA System trustee Ron Gray finished talking about late trustee Jim Wilson III, Gray had a story he wanted to share.

Gray, speaking at the UA System Board of Trustees meeting Friday in Tuscaloosa, went back to a time golfing at the beach before Wilson passed. Gray was playing in a match against Wilson at Camp Creek in Seacrest, Florida in 2021.

“When you play golf with Jim in a match, you better be ready for trash talk,” Gray said. “Jim loved to trash talk.”

Here’s the moment Gray remembered: Wilson had a long putt; about 50 feet, for a birdie that was going to win the match. Wilson was playing with a close friend of his against Gray and Chancellor Finis St. John. Gray was holding the flag stick when Wilson hit his putt. Then Wilson starts walking. Gray thought there was no way the putt would go in. Then Wilson started walking faster. By the time the ball got to the hole, Wilson was running. Then the ball went in.

Said Gray: “He pointed to the ball and said, ‘That’s for you Ron Gray.'”

Wilson went on to win the match, the last such time he would play against Gray, with whom he golfed frequently over the years.

Wilson passed this past March at 59 soon after contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare incurable brain disorder. Wilson had served as a trustee for two decades, and the board passed a resolution honoring him Friday.

In addition to a framed resolution acknowledging Wilson for his service as a trustee, the board also approved a plaque honoring Wilson that will be installed at the south entrance of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The plaque’s location is fitting considering the role Wilson played in renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Wilson, who had a background in real estate projects as chairman and CEO of Jim Wilson & Associates, played an integral role in the rise of Alabama football under Nick Saban in the facilities arms race in college sports.

Just ask Saban.

When Wilson joined the board, Alabama didn’t have top athletics facilities. Saban included Wilson in a short list of three individuals who were vital in supporting late athletics director Mal Moore for his vision for the department along with Paul Bryant Jr. and Angus Cooper II, both trustees at the time.

“Those three guys, if they don’t support Mal, we can’t build the facilities,” Saban told The Tuscaloosa News. “We can’t make the changes. We can’t have the academic program that we need. We can’t hire the kind of coaches that we need. Their commitment to the standard of excellence that we all wanted to achieve directly contributed to the success.”

Wilson was also a friend of Saban’s; Wilson was passionate about Alabama athletics and frequently visited the facilities. In addition, Wilson had a passion for the UAB health system and what UAH had done. Family was of the utmost importance to Wilson, though, which is why it was fitting he had family members in attendance Friday.

His brother, Will Wilson, as well as one daughter, Wesley Wilson Clingman, and nephew, Brian Wilson, attended the board meeting as well as Alabama associate athletics director Ellis Ponder, who was like a son to Wilson. They sat front row as the board passed the resolution.

“It is a privilege to recommend this resolution, honoring the late Jim Wilson III,” St. John said. “By this, we hope to commemorate Jim’s service, recognize his contributions to the University of Alabama system and memorialize our deep love and friendship for this fine man.”

Multiple members of the board spoke about Wilson, and Gray went last. He ended his words about Wilson on Friday sharing the golfing story as well as the last time he went to visit Wilson, who didn’t have long after he was diagnosed. Wilson’s memory was fading a bit and he was struggling to remember things. But when Gray mentioned the walk-in putt, Wilson’s eyes lit up and he told Gray he remembered.

“That’s my memory of Jim I will treasure forever,” Gray said. “He was a great trustee. A great person, and he was an amazing friend. And he will always be missed.”


This article was written for the Tuscaloosa News by Nick Kelly. To view the original article, please visit: