His wife warned him about the eagle.
Still, he never dreamed the caramel-colored bird would swoop over the crowd, circle Christ’s Chapel and ride a pocket of hot air straight into one of the building’s large windows.
“I thought, ‘Well, I just killed an eagle. I’m a new president. Forget it, I might as well quit and go home,” said President William “Billy” Wilson during dinner on a quiet Tuesday night one month later.
Seated next to him, his wife, Lisa, raised her eyebrows and continued the story.
“All you heard in the microphone is, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ and all I could think was, ‘How do you know it’s OK? The eagle just hit the window and is lying on the floor,’” she said. “I told him beforehand that Johnny Carson always said don’t ever have animals on. They’ll always upstage you.”
As ORU’s newest president ate Italian cuisine with his family, Wilson could only laugh and shake his head at the viral chapel blunder.
Tonight was not a time to talk about worries from work or the upcoming inauguration.
Wilson’s daughter, Sara Morton, 28, and granddaughter, Abi, 7, had just arrived in Tulsa from Paraguay and were joining “papa” and “nana” for dinner.
With his wife there, Wilson was only missing his son, also named William.
Wilson, the former vice-chair of the Board of Trustees, has four grandchildren in all. He said he considers “papa” the best title in the world.
Over bags of breadsticks and plates of chicken scaloppini, the Wilson family talked about memories from Tennessee, a lifetime of travel and the now-infamous eagle crash that even circulated around the mission field in Paraguay.
Morton had other missionaries calling her about the event.
At this, Abi perked up.
“I haven’t seen the video,” she said, shaking her bangs and looking around the table.
“We’ll show you,” her grandma promised.
News travels, but the Wilsons have had 30 years of ministry and marriage to learn to laugh about such things.
The pair met as Kentucky teenagers in the same high school English class.
“I was a pagan, and she was a good Baptist girl,” Wilson said. “I met Lisa by cheating off her test in a Western literature class.”
“American short stories,” she corrects him.
And with a bit of persistence and a lot of salvation, Wilson soon began dating his high school sweetheart. They married as students at Western Kentucky University several years later.
Since coming to Tulsa in June, ORU’s first couple have scoped out favorite restaurants and unpacked more boxes than they can count.
Wilson said the pair enjoys south Tulsa. It reminds them of their home in Tennessee. Except for the river.
Before coming to ORU, they had moved about six months prior to a riverfront home. Both enjoy water sports, and the family was excited to play around in this new aquatic backyard.
As the salads were being removed, Wilson began talking about his journey to become ORU’s fourth president. Scraps of straw wrappers littered the table in front of him. He picked up a piece and began twisting it carefully between both thumbs and index fingers.
“I was a bit resistant to the idea [of president] at first,” Wilson said. “I hoped they would find somebody else. When that didn’t happen, I really had to pray and seek God.”
Wilson first became involved at ORU in 2007, shortly after Richard Roberts resigned as president. He had known Mart Green, now chair of the Board of Trustees, for many years. Green had contacted Wilson before making his $70 million donation to the school and asked him to be on the Board as well.
When Wilson was named the university’s fourth president last semester, his daughter admitted the news came as a surprise.
Her first thought: no more house on the river.
But the shock soon gave way to excitement.
“I think both my brother and I, once we were able to think about it, were just thrilled,” Morton said. “Mom and dad have always loved working with college-aged students and are passionate about investing in the next generation.”
Wilson said he feels as though he’s brought his family to the place they’re suppose to be: Tulsa.
“If the students of ORU understood my background, where I came from as a child to become president, they would know all things are possible,” he said. “I’m very honored to be here.”