Big heart for Homecomings

Tony Wilson is a mentor for children in need.

Tony Wilson portrait

Tony Wilson was elected Mizzou’s first Black Homecoming king in 1985. Now he advocates on behalf of child victims of abuse or neglect.

Published on Show Me Mizzou August 19, 2021
Story by Jack Wax, BS Ed ’73, MS ’76, MA ’87

Thirty-six years after becoming Mizzou’s first Black Homecoming king, Tony Wilson is still focused on homecomings. Not the 1985 celebration over which he presided at Memorial Stadium but the return home of abused and neglected children who are separated from their parents and living with foster families. And when that’s not possible, he works to ensure kids have a different home, one that is safe and permanent.

Wilson, BA ’85, who travels with ease through the world of government officials and corporate executives, is now just as comfortable in the company of judges, educators and social workers. He has found a renewed sense of purpose in mentoring adolescents under court protection, standing up for them to ensure they get the services they need. Three years ago, he began volunteering with CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties (Court Appointed Special Advocates), where he has kept tabs on three children while advocating on their behalf. “I just love being a consistent adult presence in their lives,” says Wilson, who lives in Spring Hill, Kansas.

Although Wilson’s mother and brother previously had volunteered for CASA, it wasn’t until an accident laid him up for a few months that he seriously considered making it part of his life. His own three children had grown up and moved away from home. With retirement on the horizon, he re-evaluated his priorities, and the prospect of lounging on his deck listening to birds didn’t cut it. “Two weeks after I got out of rehab, I went to CASA training. I just figured they may not be my biological children, but if I can be helpful to some other kids, I’m all in.”

Wilson still has the enthusiasm and engaging personality of a Homecoming king. When he gets a text or a call from the teenager he mentors through CASA, he responds promptly. Twice a month, he visits the youngster in person. They may grab a snack at a nearby restaurant or go for a stroll in the park. Always, he listens attentively to how things are going in the teen’s life. To the rest of the world, Wilson is the Midwest senior director of government affairs for Microsoft Corp., responsible for overseeing an eight-state territory. To the teenager, he’s “the blue donut guy.” Wilson demonstrates his charm and good humor as he explains his complex role in the lives of the teens. “I tell my kids, if you want a blue donut for breakfast every day of your life, that’s OK. It’s my job to let everybody know with a loud voice that this kid wants a blue donut. We can have a conversation about why blue donuts aren’t a good thing, but I’ve got to advocate for this kid to have a blue donut.”

About 500 CASA volunteers serve Johnson and Wyandotte counties. Many more — up to 1,000 — are needed, and when Wilson retires, he intends to close the gap. “I know it sounds crazy,” he says, “but my goal is to make sure there are so many CASA volunteers that we’ll need a waiting list.”

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