Chattanoogan: Retiring Baylor Head Scott Wilson Looks Back Humbly At Career

Friday, April 9, 2021 - by John Shearer

As Scott Wilson has spent time on the Baylor School campus the last 12 years, he has nostalgically thought on occasion about when he was a student from 1969-75.


He has now come full circle, as his time as headmaster/president will conclude following the end of this school year as a result of his planned retirement.

And that has brought some additional nostalgia of the sentimental kind.


“The other day I was walking the campus and I couldn’t help but get a little bit sentimental,” he said. “But I’m still pretty busy. I’m trying to keep my shoulder to it until the last day.”


As Mr. Wilson reminisced recently over the phone, it became obvious that while the scenic view by the river has been the same for him since he was an eager seventh grader, the perspective has changed quite a bit in his different roles.


But his deep appreciation for Baylor has remained the same, he said, adding that he has been greatly honored to be only the second alumnus behind Herb Barks Jr. to lead the school.


“A lot has happened in 12 years,” he said. “It’s been a full, rich time. I’ve been so honored to serve the school. I am not sure I’ll ever get over that. It has been just an amazing privilege.”


Mr. Wilson admitted he never dreamed about being the headmaster while a student, after his late father sent him there because everyone the elder Wilson had met from Baylor impressed him. 


But the former Red Raider basketball player did desire to be a teacher and coach after being positively influenced by several staff members at Baylor. They included Jimmy Duke, Doug Hale, Bill Cushman and Bruce High, among several others.


“They cared about me and wanted the best for me, and I wanted that for young people,” he said.


After finishing at the University of Georgia – another school in red he loves and where he worked in admissions for one year -- Mr. Wilson was able to get an admissions position as well at Baylor and assisted with the basketball program. He later headed the admissions office after Mr. Duke’s untimely death in 1987.


In 1990, he began working in admissions at the Hammond School in Columbia, S.C., for former Baylor headmaster Herb Barks. After some reflection and conversations with Mr. Barks, though, he soon felt drawn to get into administration.  


“I wouldn’t be where I am without Herb Barks,” Mr. Wilson said. “I learned a whole lot from him.”


After continuing to work at Hammond, he became headmaster of Valwood in Valdosta, Ga., in 1997, and then headed Brookstone School in Columbus, Ga., beginning in 2003 before coming to Baylor in 2009.


Mr. Wilson said he has been proud of all the positive accomplishments the school has achieved during that time. Among them have been elevating the quality of the academic program, increasing the school’s endowment and annual fund, keeping tuition increases manageable, keeping the budget balanced, seeing Baylor capture nearly 90 athletic state championships, and investing some $75 million in capital improvements. The latter has included the opening of the large Scotty Probasco Academic Center on top of the hill in 2018 and converting the asphalt quadrangle into a green space.t the school open this year during a pandemic.   


Baylor has no doubt changed since he started as a student when it was still a military school, and the quadrangle was used for drill formation. Since he graduated in 1975, it has become coed, numerous additional buildings have been built, and the school has become much more diverse racially and culturally.


But he added that certain important aspects have not changed since basically its founding in 1893.


“It has changed in very dramatic ways, but the core values remain the same,” he said, citing such traits as honor and excellence.


While trying to carry on and build upon these traditions, he said he might spend a typical school day meeting with various school people and taking care of other matters as head of school. But he also tries to attend as many school extracurricular events involving students of all ages as he can.


“It’s the best part of the job,” he said of the latter.


Of course, the last year has been affected by the pandemic. But he said Baylor has been able to have regular classes this school year, other than starting back a little later after the winter break and Christmas due to the nationwide surge. Along that same line, he jokingly added that he has taken some good-natured kidding and grief over the timing of his departure during the yearlong health crisis.


In his retirement, he plans to move into the background, although he will be glad to help Baylor and new head and fellow alumnus Chris Angel any way he can, including possibly with fund-raising. And he also still plans to attend some Baylor sporting events, concerts and plays.


For now, though, he leaves with much pride over all that has been accomplished. That includes the high-profile attention the school received in recent months over efforts by such science teachers as Dr. Elizabeth Forrester and Dr. Dawn Richards to help do COVID-19 testing and research for the larger community.


He also takes joy in the smaller work that has also been done with the same amount of enthusiasm. He used as an example a senior trip at the end of a recent school year, when the students took part in outdoor and team-building activities in Northeast Georgia.


That year it was constantly raining, and a damper was put on some of the activities as a result. Despite that, the students did not want to leave. He remembered an especially touching moment near the end, when all the seniors of different races and even from different parts of the country and world stood, joined hands and enthusiastically sang the Baylor alma mater.


“It was such a perfect image of Baylor,” he said.


Scenes like that are why he said he leaves with deep feelings of satisfaction.


“I love the place,” he said. “It sure changed my life and changed the kids’ lives and I know how powerful an impact the school is. It has been a real labor of love. And I am really proud of what we are about.”


And he added that he could not have been able to lead the school these last 12 years without the support of his wife, Susan. “My wife has been the linchpin in all this,” he said, “She has been amazing.”

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