Wilson Talley (WHF 1966-67): 1935-2017Dr. Wilson K. Talley, 82, passed away in Davis on June 16, 2017. Dr. Talley was instrumental in the formation of the Department of Applied Science at UC Davis/Livermore and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He was a cherished husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and friend. Dr. Talley was a highly respected professor, innovator, researcher, and colleague.Wilson was born in St. Louis on January 27, 1935, to Samuel and Isabella Talley. He graduated from Berkeley High School and earned an A.B. in Physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1956, an S.M. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1957, and his PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963.
He married Sharon Tettemer in 1961 and they had three children, Steve, Elaine and Ted.
His work as a teaching assistant to Dr. Edward Teller at Berkeley ultimately led to Wilson’s move to Davis in 1963 as the first faculty member in the Department of Applied Science. Wilson enjoyed a 28 year teaching career at UCD. He also served as the Assistant Vice President for Academic Planning and Program Review for the University of California. Wilson co-authored two physics books.
In 1969, he was selected as a White House Fellow. His initial appointment was at the Department of Health Education and Welfare, but he quickly moved to another assignment helping to start the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He was the study director for Nelson Rockefeller’s Commission on Critical Choices for Americans in 1974. From 1974 to 1977, Wilson served as Assistant Administrator for Research and Development at the EPA. He served as the President of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation from 1972 to December 1998. He also served as a science advisor to California Governor Pete Wilson, the Department of Defense, and Presidents Ford and Reagan.
He was a member and Chairman of the Army Science Board and twice received the Outstanding Civilian Service Award from the Department of the Army. More importantly, it was through his work at the Pentagon that he met Helen Mazetis, who was the love of his life. Helen and Wilson were married in 1981, and she was by his side and his constant loving companion for 35 years. They enjoyed a rich life together full of travel and family. Helen and Wilson’s love for each other was a shining example to all.
As the result of a stroke in 1998, Wilson suffered from aphasia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech. Undaunted, he taught science to children by developing demonstrations of scientific concepts that did not require verbal explanation. With Helen’s constant support and caring, he approached his efforts to regain speech with the same life-long love of learning that had motivated him throughout his life.
Wilson loved the outdoors and spending time with his family skiing in Tahoe and relaxing in Hawaii. Wilson obtained a pilot’s license in the early 1970s and added an instrument rating a short time later. Both before and after his stroke, he loved attending action movies especially, and inexplicably, if they involved massive explosions.
Wilson is survived by his wife Helen, his children Steve Talley of Denver, Elaine Talley-Roy (Jeff) of Davis, Ted Talley (Kristen) of Oakland, and Donna Ochs (Robert) of Virginia, grandchildren Michael and Drew Talley of Denver, Joseph, Matthew and Jacob Roy of Davis, Olivia and Kevin Talley of Oakland, and Cadence Haden, Heather Miller, Tessa Ochs-Boyd of Virginia, and honorary stepchildren Heather McLin Pilmanis and Clay McLin. He also leaves behind five great-grandchildren, his former wife Sharon McLin (Brit), his brother James Talley (Leona), and his sister Isabella Johanson, all of whom will miss him deeply.
Remembrance from Mike Levett (WHF 1969-70): “It’s closing in on 48 years since we met at the Regional “finals” in San Francisco. It is hard to think of more polar opposite classmates than Wilson and I, united “only” by our very different, pre-WHF relationships with the University of California. Wilson was established in his expertise and his profession while I was just out of law school and knew only that I would not practice law. He was a physicist and mentee of Edward Teller while I was….anything but. And, as I recall, he was the faculty advisor to Young Americans for Freedom (the most conservative student group) while I had just been Editor of the Daily Bruin with a nearly 180 degree opposite POV. We did not agree but we could always talk. And we did not agree but we never fought. I learned a lot about “working with differences” from Wilson. I learned that at least one conservative physicist could be downright funny, could teach by demonstrating a respect for “the other,” and display a great understanding of the power of “theater” when dealing with audiences of all kinds. And, I learned that you can never know what person or conversation can change another’s understanding and belief.”
Remembrance from Landis Jones (WHF 1969-70): “Wilson was an accomplished scientist who had a conjecture named after him, but he patiently shared his knowledge with his less scientifically astute White House Fellows classmates during our service, and later classes of White House Fellows whom he welcomed to California and arranged for them to meet his mentor, Edward Teller. Even after his disabling stroke, Wilson and Helen attended the Annual leadership meetings every year and he shared his warmth and interests with classmates and attendees from other classes as well. His smile, his dynamic interest in the White House Fellows program, his friendship will all be missed.”
Remembrance from Percy Pierre (WHF 1969-70): “Wilson was one of my best friends from the time we first met at the San Francisco Regional WHF Finals, to our WHF year when our families shared baby sitting in SW Washington, to the time he worked at EPA in SW Washington, and to the time Olga and I visited him and Sharon at Lake Tahoe for a skiing vacation. When I was Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Development, I appointed him to the Army Science Board and introduced him to his future wife, Helen. During the 35 years of their marriage, we continued to be close. Wilson was an engineer who wanted to have a broader impact on the world as envisioned by John Gardner. His work with the Nelson Rockefeller Commission, the EPA, and Hertz Foundation are examples of that. Wilson was smart, generous, and had a great sense of humor. We will all miss him.”
Remembrance from Stuart Taylor (WHF 1969-70): “Of all the WHFs, Wilson was one of two who actually changed my life. We are almost the same age, traveled down some of the same personal challenging pathways, both remarried and were blessed to have miraculous care givers. Wilson was an outstanding professor, I regret I was never one of his students but I continue to benefit from his teaching me and others how to communicate using simple hand written diagrams.”
Excerpted from Presentation by Percy A. Pierre, WHF Class of ‘69 at the Wilson Talley Memorial Service
July 9, 2017
“First of all, I want to thank Helen for inviting me to come and share some of my memories of Wilson with you.
During the last 48 years, Wilson was one of my best friends. We were different in many ways. I grew up in the deep South in a highly segregated environment in New Orleans, La. Wilson grew up in a predominantly white environment in Northern California.
However, we were also the same in many ways. We were both engineers. We also believed that engineers could make a contribution to solving some of the most pressing problems of our nation. That is what brought us together, when we each applied for a White House Fellowship in 1968.
I first met Wilson in San Francisco at the Regional interviews of the White House Fellows competition in January 1969. I met Wilson there, but I can’t say we became friends at that time. We were competitors for the opportunity to go to the finals—not friends. I next met Wilson at the Finals of the White House Fellows competition at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Again we were competitors. Our friendship began when we were both told that we had won a White House Fellowship.
The Fellows chosen in 1969 were a diverse group. About half were Republicans and half were Democrats—although that was never an issue among us. Four were African Americans, two were women, one was Native American, and too many were lawyers. Wilson and I were two of the engineers.
Another thing Wilson and I had in common was that we each chose WHF assignments that were far away from engineering. Wilson chose a position as an Assistant to the Secretary of Health Education and Welfare and I chose a position as an Assistant to Patrick Moynihan on the White House Urban Affairs Council. We each thought—perhaps naively—that engineers could help solve the pressing problems of the day.
When it came time to find a place to live in the DC area, most of the Fellows found places in the suburbs. Wilson and his family, and I and my family chose to live in a condo and rental complex recently built in Southwest Washington DC—right next to a predominantly Black housing project. Some people feared living in an inner city that had recently experienced racial riots. Wilson did not. There, my wife Olga and I and our new born baby, Kristin, got to know Wilson’s family—Sharon, Steven, Elaine, and Little Teddy. Sometimes we shared babysitting responsibilities.
The Talley’s and the Pierre’s saw a lot of each other that year. There were many activities that included families. We also traveled a lot together. A lot of bonding occurred during those encounters. I’m sure that most of us in our Fellowship class believe that our year as a Fellow changed our lives, both professionally and personally.
I next saw Wilson when he was working on the Nelson Rockefeller Commission. He explained to me how he was working on an agenda to address major national problems. We shared ideas. Not long after that he took a position as Director of Research for the Environmental Protection agency, an agency he helped create when he was a Fellow. He moved back to SW Washington and I saw a lot of him.
Sometime in the 1970’s, Wilson invited me and Olga to join him and his family at his ski cabin at Lake Tahoe for some skiing. Wilson was an accomplished skier and we were only beginners. I recall a time when Olga and I were on the slopes—occasionally falling—when Wilson came whizzing by. I marveled at his technique. I marveled even more that he was wearing a big Stetson hat, rather than the usual knitted ski cap. My immediate thought was that Wilson would lose that hat when he fell down. After watching him for a while, I remembered that Wilson was a perfectionist. As far as I could tell, Wilson never fell down, thus he did not lose his hat.
Not long after that, Wilson told me that he and Sharon had divorced. When I became Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development, and Acquisition, I invited Wilson to become a member of the Army Science Board (ASB), providing advice to me and others on technological issues facing the Army. This appointment led to his meeting his future wife. Helen was the secretary who managed the ASB. But Helen was more than a secretary. I gave her that job because I was told by my executive officer, Col. Shaw, that Helen was by far the most capaable of all of the secretaries in the office.
I left the Pentagon in 1981, but Wilson continued on the ASB. He later became chair of the ASB. Apparently Wilson was doing more that chairing the ASB, he was also courting Helen. Knowing Wilson, I’m sure that courtship was analytical, well planned and optimized. I can’t imagine how he popped the question, but he did and she accepted.
I continued to see Wilson and Helen, particularly at the annual White House Fellows reunions. When I heard that Wilson had had a stroke, I knew that Helen would take excellent care of him. I also knew that Sharon and the kids would do what they could.
An example of that caring occurred at a special reunion of our class of ’69 WHF’s in 2005—which Helen helped organize. The organizing committee debated whether both current and former spouses should be invited. We agreed that we would like to see the former spouses whom we got to know during the White House Fellows year, so we invited them. Sharon came.
This was after Wilson’s stroke and he had difficulty speaking and reading. We planned to have each of the Fellows make a brief statement about their lives to that point. We knew this would be difficult for Wilson. We also knew that he would insist on trying. When the time came for him to speak, Sharon was sitting on one side of him and Helen was sitting on the other side. As he began to read, each of them was leaning towards him and following his progress. When he stumbled—as we knew he would—one or the other of them would gently assist. He got through the presentation and got an ovation from the Fellows. Wilson was loved and helped by his family.
Wilson was also loved by members of his class of White House Fellows. Several of them wrote statements upon hearing of his death. They have been posted on the White House Fellows Foundation and Association website. I’d like to read from one of them for you.
Mike Levett was the closest thing to a leftist radical in our class. He and Wilson worked together in putting the Environmental Protection Agency in place. Mike said the following:
“It is hard to think of more polar opposite classmates than Wilson and me. As I recall, he was the faculty advisor to Young Americans for Freedom (the most conservative student group), while I had just been Editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin with a nearly 180 degree opposite point of view. We did not agree but we could always talk. We did not agree but we never fought. I learned a lot about “working with differences” from Wilson. I learned that at least one conservative physicist could be downright funny, could teach by demonstrating a respect for “the other,” And, I learned that you can never know what person or conversation can change another’s understanding and belief.”
Wilson was smart and forever optimistic. He helped a lot of people through his life-time commitment to making a difference in the world. He was loved by his family and his friends and when he needed help, they were there for him.
Wilson will be missed. However, my memories of him are rich. They will stay with me for the rest of my life.”posted: June 25, 2017