As a young boy, by the time I woke up every morning during the week my dad had already left for work. I would wake up before daylight some days but could never catch him before he left. He was a newspaper man, a reporter for the Chattanooga Free Press.
On occasion I would get to visit him in the old Free Press building in downtown Chattanooga. I remember the massive elevator to get to the second-floor newsroom where my dad’s desk was. There was a distinct smell of ink and the sound of the nearby, massive printers was constant. As I recall, two dozen or so desks were in the newsroom where my dad spent his days. People came and went continuously. I was too young to understand much of what my dad did, but I knew that he loved it and he was good at it.
Mr. Roy ran the paper and was my dad’s boss. I only remember meeting him a time or two but grew to understand he meant a lot to my dad. He had a big farm away from town and once a year held a big picnic where we got to go and swim in his pool with all the families from the paper. I could tell that he was a good boss to my dad and my dad was fiercely loyal to Mr. Roy.
After Mr. Roy’s passing things began to change at the paper. The Free Press and the Times merged and things were very different. This was in the late 90’s and I, now in college, wasn’t surprised to learn that my dad was upset with the changes. I was surprised, however, to find out that he planned to go out on his own, to start a newspaper online. Computers were quickly evolving and changing the world but were unfamiliar to most of us. I didn’t think my dad knew how to turn a computer on, much less begin an online newspaper. I was skeptical, but he was determined and my mom was supportive as always.
In 1999 chattanoogan.com was born. Despite virtually no knowledge of computers or the internet, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the online paper took off. While he was born in Laurens, S.C. and didn’t come to Chattanooga until his college years when he attended Covenant College, from then on no one loved Chattanooga more. In his early years as a reporter he studied the city and wrote multiple books about its history. The passion for the city he loved, relationships built which often times gave him the first scoop for a story, and I think a desire to carry on Mr. Roy’s legacy helped the new paper take off.
Love, passion and loyalty go a long way in life. I’m thankful for how my dad has demonstrated these things and how they’ve worn off on me, my siblings, our families. I had a great upbringing in Chattanooga and while I haven’t lived there in over 20 years, like my dad I love the city.
When I was five or six, he bought an old house on the side of Lookout Mountain, a half mile or so above Ruby Falls. It was pretty run down, basically abandoned. The bones of it had probably seen Civil War soldiers pass through. My friends called it haunted and we didn’t have heating or air, but I got to sit out on the roof outside my bedroom window and see all the lights of the city with the big river running through. My two sisters and I had a wonderful childhood in that house.
He loves Lookout Mountain especially and started a preservation group to uphold its history. His group bought and cleaned up much of the land below Ruby Falls and I spent many a weekend hacking down kudzu in that area. Fittingly, there’s a park there now with my dad’s name on it, John C. Wilson Park, thanks to friends and colleagues of his who recognized his commitment to the mountain and city.
Each time I would come back into town my dad would show me the latest developments and improvements to the city. He and my mom ultimately moved to a condo near the Walnut Street Bridge. Now he’s within walking distance of the courthouse, still working to get the latest scoop and updating stories early in the morning, throughout the day, and late at night.
I could go on and on with stories about how my dad loves his city and his family. Mostly I just want to say happy birthday dad! Congratulations on building something special out of nothing. We’re all extremely proud of what chattanoogan.com has become. We’re way more proud and thankful for all the other ways you’ve been a great dad, husband, and papa. We love you very much!
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Its hard to believe that is has been over 20 years since the Chattanoogan was created. I was director of the Chattanooga Hamilton County Business Development Center (the incubator) in North Chattanooga (before the North Shore was cool) when John Wilson came in looking for space. It wasn't our job to pass judgement on the chances of success for any of our clients but it was to provide space and assistance to each venture in any way we could. And in those days it was believed that an online news source was about as far fetched as it came.
As I recall it was just John and one other person in those early days and each day he hustled out to cover the news, business, sports and everything else in between. The success of the Chattanoogan is as much a tribute to the work ethic of John Wilson as anything else. The changes in how we do business and get our news through the internet were probably major factors, but many of those didn't happen until after John had firmly established the Chattanoogan as the go-to information source that it is today. Way to go John!
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I loved reading inside scoop in letter from Robbie Wilson describing what it was like growing up as the son news icon, John Wilson. You should write a book about your father.
I especially enjoyed the photo of Roy McDonald and your Dad. The newsrooms of that time were the most exciting place to be.
It must have been wonderful growing up in that environment. Yes Robbie Wilson, your father is a brilliant man, not only being a journalist, but as a highly creative and successful business man.
That photo is a treasure, do share more. I would like to see John Wilson reinstate those side burns, en vouge for that time.
I remember when the newspaper was sold, and writer John Wilson starting an online news venue. John was always a brilliant writer. Government people were hanging onto every word he published, when Chattanoogan started. I happen to know this for a fact.
Why? John was a seasoned beat reporter, and was covering the meeting better than anyone in the region. The beat reporters of the newspapers days were all the right stuff in journalism.
I am just in awe of your father, and his work product, Chattanoogan. I have every book he has written and published, and some signed.
People in the know always say, “make no mistake about it, Chattanoogan is the leading source of news” in our community.
Happy Birthday, John Wilson! I hate to sound gushy, but I am a fan always.
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Well, sir, you clearly did a pretty dang good job as a daddy too! Happy birthday John! Chattanooga is a different place, for the much better, because of you and your vision. Thank you!
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Have a GREAT day and year!
Thanks for all you do!
C.W. Hayes, M.D. FACS
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Your child loves and appreciates you…You did well in their rearing…and should be very proud of your accomplishment!
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John is a great man, journalist, historian, and Christian gentleman.
We are fortunate that he chose Chattanooga to be his home.
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Happy Birthday John,
Never a day goes by without me checking out the news, sports, opinions, etc., etc., on the Chattanoogan.com. Your have created the most wonderful internet forum Chattanooga has. No one else can come close. Thanks for all the posting you have done for me over the years.
Keep up good work,
Michael G. Mansfield
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It was truly a great tribute!
I, too, am a fan of chattanoogan.com, and read it several times each day. And have since day one.
It’s a great source, a great resource, and a fantastic body of work by someone who knows about - and cares about - their community very deeply.
We are blessed to have chattanoogan.com and it’s founder, John Wilson, in this great city.
I’m honored to call John a friend, and look forward to another 20 great years of reading a Chattanooga original.