Bill Wilcox honored at a special presentation of the Muddy Boot Award.
“The 2011 recipient of the Muddy Boot Award wears many hats,” the presenter stated.
“… And always a bow tie.”
Soon after — and greeted by thunderous applause as well as a standing ovation — 87-year-old William Jenkins Wilcox Jr. of Oak Ridge rose to his feet and became the East Tennessee Economic Council’s latest “Muddy Boot” inductee.
Presenter Gerald Boyd, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Operations, told those assembled at Friday’s weekly ETEC meeting: “It is a great privilege for me to be able to make this presentation this morning. I think you will agree there is no one more deserving.”
A passionate advocate for preserving The Secret City’s past, Bill Wilcox was described by Boyd as a stellar example of “what Oak Ridge is all about” — adding that Wilcox is “the face and the voice of Oak Ridge in many ways.”
The Muddy Boot Award gets its name from the “sea of mud” that was Oak Ridge in its very early construction years from 1942 to 1945, and the award itself is “a tribute to the individuals who make East Tennessee a stronger region through their work and community activities.”
Enter Bill Wilcox Jr., who came to Oak Ridge in October 1943, during World War II, working as a chemist at what is now the Y-12 National Security Complex. After a varied and successful career in The Secret City, Wilcox “retired” in 1986 as the technical director at the Y-12 plant and the former K-25 Site.
Wilcox has devoted his last 10 years to helping tell the story of Oak Ridge and how it played a key role in ending World War II. A frequent guest speaker at local events, Wilcox has appeared in local documentaries, national television series and newspaper stories written by travel writers across the country.
Besides receiving the honorary title of city historian in May 2006, Wilcox became the recipient of the state’s first-ever Wiley Oakley Award presented during a governor’s tourism conference in Kingsport last September. That award is named after a tourism pioneer who enjoyed showing guests the Great Smoky Mountains more than 100 years ago.
Boyd pointed out Wilcox has served the area and the nation in so many ways over the years that “you cannot mention his name without thinking of his service to this country and his involvement in this community.”
Additionally, “his 43-year career makes him one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable and experienced individuals from the Manhattan Project,” the DOE-ORO manager stated. “His passion for preserving the Oak Ridge story continues to inspire us and to challenge us to commemorate the important work done in this place.”
Though widely recognized as an author, lecturer and historian, “I think all of us in this room would describe him first and foremost as our friend,” Boyd remarked. “Bill Wilcox is one of the best that Oak Ridge had to offer during the Manhattan Era and during the years after the war.”
Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who was among the scores of business and governmental leaders attending Friday’s standing-room-only event, said there’s no question that “pioneers” such as Wilcox and the late Alvin Weinberg, a former Oak Ridge National Laboratory director and a fellow Muddy Boot recipient, are nothing less than “Oak Ridge icons.”
“This is so long overdue,” said the veteran congressman. “They probably ought to have the Muddy Boot Award renamed for Bill Wilcox.”
For his part, Wilcox accepted Friday’s recognition with humble appreciation and noted that the local community has meant so much to him for so long.
“Oak Ridge has provided many challenges and many opportunities to me and my family,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
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Source: Darrell Richardson | The Oak Ridger
Photo: Scott Fraker | The Oak Ridger
Left: Bill Wilcox accepts the Muddy Boot Award.
Right: Bill Wilcox and U.S. Congressman Zach Wamp.
Muddy Boot Award presented to Bill Wilcox.
Additional Photos: D. Ray Smith | B&W Y-12