Reprinted with permission from the Sumter Item by Kareem Wilson
As a blue-and-yellow boutonniere was pinned on his navy blue blazer, James "Ted" Wilson Sr. looked up with pride at his portrait hanging in the Solomon Jackson Jr. Administration building at Morris College.
The portrait of Wilson hangs on the second floor of the building. The historically Black institution held a ceremony on Friday to dedicate a conference room bearing the name "Dr. James V. 'Ted' Wilson Sr. Board Room" in honor of the local alumnus and Sumter entrepreneur.
"This is a very important moment in the history of our institution where we gather here to pause and recognize a great man and one of the greatest benefactors of Morris College," Morris College President Leroy Staggers said.
Wilson, a Chester County native, graduated from Morris College in 1969, majoring in elementary education. After graduating, he worked as a teacher in Orangeburg County School District before making a career transition into the insurance business. In his new career, he worked as an agent at Interstate Life Insurance.
He was told he wouldn't succeed in the financial service industry because of his race in the 1970s.
"One of the first things they told him when he walked into the room was, 'You're not going to be here long. You're Black, and you're not going to be here this long because this business isn't for you," said James Wilson Jr., his son.
Wilson said it was difficult in the beginning of his career.
"There were very few Black men in the insurance business," he recalled. "I was one of the first few Black agents. They thought I wouldn't make it. They thought I was going to quit even though I became one of the top salesmen in the company."
He said he excelled in his new job, earning many awards and honors, and eventually founded his own agency, Wilson and Associates, in 1981. More than 40 years later, he is now the founder and CEO of Universal Benefits Marketing Firm Inc., a life insurance agency in Sumter that has become a multi-billion-dollar corporation and the third-largest independently owned final expense marketing agency nationwide. He also provides training and development in insurance sales and other business disciplines. Since becoming a member of the Morris College Board of Trustees in May 2019, he has received numerous awards, honors and recognitions.
Family members said this ceremony is a great honor for the college and their family as it represents years of Wilson's one-man operation to provide for his family and provide insurance and other services in the community.
"We are greatly appreciative of this great honor," said Erin James, his daughter. "It has been instilled in our family to give not only to those in need, but to give because it is of your heart to give."
Wilson is also a philanthropist who has given to many charitable organizations and causes and made several donations to Morris. He recently gave a $700,000 donation to the college to pay for 30 students to attend in 2022 and said he plans to continue donating to the college in the future.
James said education has been a part of her family philosophy and said it was not unusual for him to give back to his alma mater, as he loves helping youth succeed.
"We believe, and I believe, that this is like a bridge," James said in her speech to her father about his legacy. "The work that he begins now bridges over to these children on campus who started out like you."
Wilson Jr. said his father is a person who has always given tirelessly without looking for a reward and works to provide for others as best as he can.
"My dad is also the type of person who gives but is also the type of person who will never give up," Wilson Jr. said.
Because of Wilson's latest donation, his family said he has helped contribute to students getting an education and beginning a lasting legacy for the Wilson family and students at Morris.