Services will be held Friday, Sept. 14, for Robert Arnold Wilson, 65, of Collingdale, a lawyer and Baptist church leader who fought multiple sclerosis for 43 years before dying of complications from the disease on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at his home.

Mr. Wilson worked for the City of Houston's law department and also in SEPTA's legal division prior to opening a solo practice in 1998 in Upper Darby. He handled criminal and civil cases, said his daughter, Mica J. Wilson. He retired in 2013.

Born to Frances Wilkson and Charles Rutherford, he grew up in White Plains, N.Y. In 1971, he graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in Elmsford, N.Y., where he competed on the track and field and cross-country teams as a middle-distance and long-distance runner.

Mr. Wilson attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in political science. He ran with Penn's varsity track team until he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis his senior year.

Joe Watkins, his roommate during their junior and senior years, said that before the diagnosis, Mr. Wilson got up early each morning to go running. "He really enjoyed that," Watkins said. The two men remained close friends after college.

"He was a brilliant and wonderful guy," Watkins said. "He loved people and was wonderful to be around. He used to have fish fries and have people over to listen to Stevie Wonder and sing along to those songs."

Watkins said his friend did not let the degenerative nerve disease hold him back.

"He never complained," Watkins said.

In 1975, Mr. Wilson won the Thouron Award, a prestigious postgraduate scholarship established by Sir John R.H. and Esther du Pont Thouron, and he used the money to study law at Oxford University in England. In 1977, he returned to the United States, having earned a master of laws degree.

That same year, Mr. Wilson enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He completed a law degree in 1980. Despite his struggle with multiple sclerosis, which made getting around difficult, he was cheerful and outgoing, his daughter Christian Wilson said.

"He always went out of his way to make conversation with everyone, whether it was the librarian at the Delaware County law library, the police officers on their daily beat, or parishioners at Mount Carmel Baptist Church," she said. "His upbeat spirit while enduring his grueling condition will be missed."

He also dedicated his life to his faith, first as a youth, and, starting in 1975, as an associate minister at Mount Carmel Baptist Church. Known as "Reverend Bob," he served the church community in Philadelphia for 43 years, stepping down earlier this year when his health declined.

Robert A. Wilson in a photo taken at Mount Carmel Baptist Church where he served as an associate minister.
Courtesy of Mount Carmel Baptist Church
Robert A. Wilson in a photo taken at Mount Carmel Baptist Church where he served as an associate minister.

He had many interests, including watching track and field and cross-country events, fishing, and following the New York Mets and New York Giants as well as the Eagles, 76ers, and Phillies.

He proudly noted that he had attended the Penn Relays Track Meet and Carnival, either as a participant or a spectator, since 1968.

He was married and divorced three times. All of his former wives, Rhonda Hill Wilson, Gloria Johnson, and Cathleen Fuller Wilson, survive.

In addition to his mother, Frances, and daughters, Mica and Christian, he is survived by two sisters; five brothers; and many nieces and nephews.

A viewing starting at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 14, will be followed by an 11 a.m. funeral at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St., Philadelphia. Burial is private.

Mr. Wilson told family that he hoped a cure would be found for multiple sclerosis. A donation in his name may be made to Race to Erase MS, 1875 Century Park East, Suite 980, Los Angeles, Calif. 90067, or via The nonprofit's mission is research and public education.