At Mercer University, Dr. Mary R. Wilder earned a reputation for her red ink as well as her heart. Here’s how she became and continues to be a Mercer legend.
Dr. Mary R. Wilder
Mercer connection: Mercer graduate; faculty member for 41 years; and now a professor emerita.
Years at Mercer: Student, 1950-54; faculty, 1957-98; professor emerita, 1998-present.
What she did: Dr. Mary Wilder came to Mercer as a student in 1950 and was a member of the cheerleading team and Chi Omega sorority. She graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in English in 1954 and married Bobby Wilder, captain of the Mercer basketball team, that same year. The couple had two sons, who were raised on campus and are Mercer alumni.
Dr. Wilder joined the faculty at Mercer in the physical education department in 1957 and moved to the English department in 1961, following the completion of her master’s degree in English from Georgia Peabody College for Teachers. She went on to earn her Ph.D. from Florida State University in 1970 and serve as the chair of Mercer’s English Department.
She contributed to the creation of Mercer’s women’s and gender studies program as well as the Upward Bound program for disadvantaged students. In 1994, she established the Ferrol A. Sams Jr. Distinguished Chair of English, which continues to bring a distinguished writer to campus as a writer-in-residence each spring.
Why she is a legend: Dr. Wilder’s heavy use of red ink when grading essays led students to call her “Bloody Mary,” but the nickname was given with the utmost respect and affection. She continues to serve as an inspiration to Mercerians and many others today.
As a Mercer faculty member, she became known for her hard work, energy, sense of humor, leadership and genuine concern for her students, whom she held to the very highest standards as scholars and citizens. Her political activism and unwavering advocacy for justice also earned her a reputation as a mover and shaker and made her a role model.
At Mercer, she fought for equality for female student-athletes, having women in leadership positions and a remedy for staff salary inequities, among many other efforts. She has been involved in numerous committees, organizations and initiatives both on campus and in the community throughout her life, including being elected to Macon City Council.
The year before her retirement, she was awarded the Spencer B. King Jr. Distinguished Professor Award, one of the highest honors that can be awarded to a Mercer faculty member. A classroom in Willingham Hall was named in her honor in 2017, and a portrait of her hangs in the University Center.
Quotable: “From Dr. Wilder, I learned critical skills that I have used in every role throughout my career. She taught with such energy and enthusiasm that it was impossible to be bored in her class. She even added an occasional touch of sarcastic humor, which I enjoyed. She was intimidating and tough on us because she genuinely wanted us to be ready to communicate effectively in the business world.” – Jill Kinsella, Class of 1985, associate vice president of Alumni Services & Special Events and executive director of the Alumni Association
Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.