James E. Wilson was born in 1915. After receiving a degree in geological engineering at Texas A&M University, he joined Shell Oil Company in 1938 as a field geologist in his native Texas until called to duty with the U.S. Army. Wounded on D-Day plus six, Wilson was then assigned as an instructor in the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He left with the rank of major.
In 1945, Wilson returned to Shell Oil, holding various staff and management positions in the Gulf Coast, mid-continent and Rocky Mountain regions. From 1952-53, he was with Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague, Netherlands, and engaged in short assignments in Algeria and the Persian Gulf. He was exploration manager for Shell in Denver from 1954-58, followed by appointment as director of exploration research in Shell’s Houston research facility.
In 1960, Wilson was named vice-president for exploration and production in Houston – the first geologist and, at that time, youngest vice president in the company’s history. He also served in this capacity in New Orleans and Denver. As a leader at Shell, Wilson was an industry pioneer in melding the disciplines of geology, engineering and geophysics into teams and fostering communication and cooperation toward common goals. Retiring from Shell in 1973, Wilson acted as an independent petroleum consultant for a number of years in both domestic and international projects.
Wilson was AAPG president in 1972-73 and served as chairman of the Association’s Foundation from 1977-89. He often was consulted on Association matters, and past AAPG executive director Fred A. Dix considered Wilson as a key mentor. He received the Sidney Powers Medal, AAPG’s highest honor, in 1987 and Honorary Membership in 1977. Wilson also served as president of the American Geological Institute.
Wilson spent the greater part of his retirement blending two of his passions: geology and wine. He was a member of – and was honored by – several prestigious international wine organizations.
It took a number of years for him to research and write a book that has become one of the most oft quoted: Terroir: Geology, Climate and Culture in the Making of French Wine. The book has won numerous prestigious awards, including the 1998 Wine Book of the Year from Champagne Veuve Clicquot (New York) and first place from the James Beard Foundation, 2000 Wine & Spirits (New York).
Even after losing his eyesight he continued to write memoirs covering his war years, experiences at Shell and his consulting career. He also continued to contribute articles for AAPG publications, including the EXPLORER. The first of a two part-series he recently completed for the EXPLORER on “The Dead Sea is a Geological Phenomenon of Biblical Proportions,” begins this month. James E. Wilson, prominent geologist, longtime AAPG leader and Powers Medalist, consultant, oil executive and award winning author, died Sept. 15, 2008 of natural causes at his home in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. He was 93.
The James E. and Elloie B. Wilson Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a geology graduate student through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation Grants-in-Aid program. It is endowed though donations from James E. and Elloie B. Wilson Memorial Grant Fund.