An inspiring contributor to life at Lady Eaton College, a muse for the performing arts at Trent and in the broader Peterborough community, the queen of beautiful garden parties, and an honorary alumna of Trent University – these are all fond memories that the Trent community holds of Gillian Wilson.
Gillian’s role in shaping Trent University was recently recognized with a new Tribute Wall in the Trent Athletics Centre, with the three panels installed next to the Tribute Wall in honour of her husband, Paul Wilson, Trent’s first and longest-serving athletics director. The PSB Wilson Tribute Wall was unveiled in 2015 in recognition of Paul’s lasting Trent Excalibur legacy.
The new Gillian Wilson Tribute Wall tells not only the story of Gillian and the ideals for the performing arts, collaboration, creativity, and fun she instilled at Trent, but the story of Gillian and Paul as a team, as two people key in shaping both Trent and the City of Peterborough.
“Trent is probably the only university in Canada where you would find a tribute to the arts in the middle of an athletics building, but they are both human endeavours that should be celebrated,” says Tony Storey '71, former alumni director and close friend to the Wilson family. “I think this tribute is a strong statement of the values of two instrumental people in Trent’s history. It is important to tell the stories of those who helped fashion the University and who have imbued it with such special and important characteristics.”
Taking centre stage in the Trent arts scene
Gillian and Paul came to Trent 1966, moving to Peterborough from England a few weeks after their wedding day.
“As Paul got very involved with the athletics and recreation program, Gillian always had an interest in the performing arts,” shares Tony. “She became involved in community theatre and helped foster a culture of staging musicals among Trent students, staff, and faculty, particularly Gilbert and Sullivan productions. If you talk to some of the alumni, particularly from the 1970s, they will likely remember being in one of Gillian’s Gilbert and Sullivan productions.”
Gillian and Paul also served as residential dons for Lady Eaton College for a number of years, where she inspired students with her warmth, kindness, and seemingly effortless ability to “do it all.” Over the years, Gillian directed several productions to commemorate key Trent University benchmarks, such as its 20th, 25th, and 50th anniversaries. These productions were always a true showcase of Trent and its role in the community, with faculty and staff, students, alumni, and community members eagerly participating.
Her involvement in, and contributions to, community theatre in Peterborough saw her inducted into the Peterborough Pathway to Fame in 2003, and at 82, Gillian is still actively involved in local theatre productions.
Gillian also opened up her home and heart to the Trent Alumni Association, hosting countless events in her beautiful English garden, and it was at one of these garden parties that she was inducted as an honorary alumna, shares Tony.
“She's just got this incredible energy and talent and flair”, says Tony. “We are deeply grateful for her care for our alumni and her contributions to Trent and Peterborough more broadly.”