William Jenkins Wilcox Jr.
Oak Ridge pioneer, city historian
William Jenkins Wilcox Jr., 90, Oak Ridge pioneer and longtime resident,
died Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at NHC Healthcare of Oak Ridge.
The son of attorney William J. Wilcox Sr. and Kitty Rogers Wilcox, Bill was
born Jan. 26, 1923, in Harrisburg, Pa. He grew up in Allentown, Pa. He
attended Allentown High School and graduated with honors from Washington &
Lee University in 1943 with a major in chemistry. He joined the Manhattan
Project in May 1943, worked that summer on uranium purification processes
for Tennessee Eastman Corp. in Rochester, N.Y. He moved to Oak Ridge in
October 1943 when Building 9203 at the Y-12 Plant was completed. He was
Badge No. 254.
During the early war years and until the end of World War II, Bill was in
charge of Beta chemistry as well as the Special Operations Lab and then
served in the Analytical Chemistry Division, setting up the statistical
quality control program ‹ the first at Y-12.
From there, his long distinguished career included that of research chemist,
technical assistant, physics department head and division director for
gaseous diffusion and gas centrifuge at K-25. For 12 years, Bill was the
technical director for Union Carbide¹s Nuclear Division in charge of the R&D
and technical service organizations at both the K-25 and Y-12 plants.
Following a heart attack in Switzerland in 1980, he served as technical
assistant to Presidents Roger F. Hibbs, Ken Jarmolow and Clyde C. Hopkins
until retiring in 1986.
In 1983, he headed the independent Mercury Task Force investigating the use
of mercury during the lithium separation years of 1955-1962 and its impacts
on workers and the environment. During these years, he also introduced and
facilitated strategic planning for the Y-12 Plant.
Following retirement, he also served as an independent management consultant
for six more years, specializing in strategic planning for several divisions
of the three Department of Energy plants in Oak Ridge, for DOE headquarters
in Washington, D.C., the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and the Oak Ridge
school system, as well as other organizations.
During those early working years in Oak Ridge, he continued his education
and earned his master¹s degree in 1958 in industrial management from the
University of Tennessee.
Bill was also an active member of the Oak Ridge community, serving on
numerous boards including Methodist Medical Center, St. Stephen¹s Episcopal
Church, Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties, Citizens for
National Security, PTAs, the �'43 Club, the Coalition of Oak Ridge Retired
Employees (CORRE) and the Oak Ridge Heritage & Preservation Association.
Since its beginning, Bill served his beloved St. Stephen¹s Episcopal Church
in several leadership roles, serving tenures on the vestry and many standing
committees. For the past decade, he served as its archivist, having
organized its records and compiling the church history. He was also active
at the Diocese of East Tennessee, where he served as a member of The
Ecclesiastical Court, as well as on committees and commissions. He often
represented St. Stephen¹s as a delegate to diocesan conventions.
As an author, lecturer and historian, Bill reviewed and corrected a
chronology of the first 50 years of the Y-12 Plant, written with inputs from
more than 20 other Y-12 alumni. The unclassified history of the Y-12 Plant,
³An Overview of the History of Y-12: 1942-1992,² was published by the
American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE) in 2001. Also in 2001, Bill
aided producers of the History Channel¹s Modern Marvels documentary on the
³Manhattan Project² expounding on the history of the Y-12 and K-25 plants.
He wrote the proposal to the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge that put together The
Secret City Commemorative Walk project to honor institutions, facilities and
founders of the Manhattan Project. He was also instrumental in the
community-wide effort to save the K-25 ³U² building and the Alexander Inn,
and worked tirelessly with the National Park Service to include Oak Ridge in
the Manhattan Project National Historic Park with Los Alamos, N.M., and
The Oak Ridge City Council honored Bill in 2006 when he was given the
honorary title of Oak Ridge City Historian. He headed the effort to collect
oral histories on the Manhattan Project, which are housed at the Oak Ridge
He received numerous other awards and honors during his lifetime including
the Secretary of Energy¹s Achievement Award, the Outstanding Service to
Tennessee Tourism award and the East Tennessee Economic Council¹s Muddy Boot
Award. At the September 2012 National Archives of Atlanta symposium titled
³Secret City in the Tennessee Hills: From Dogpatch to Nuclear Power,² Bill
received a ³Citizen Archivist² award.
In addition to promoting Secret City history, Bill was an avid writer of his
family history and genealogy. He was a longtime student and lectured at Mt.
Vernon on George Washington¹s life portraits. He was a lover of books,
butterflies, birds, fishing and was devoted to his family and their lake
home on Watts Bar.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Eugenia ³Jeanie² Holder Wilcox, whom
he met and courted in Oak Ridge during World War II; his daughter, Kitty
Ellen Soldano and her husband, Dr. Jim Soldano, of Columbus, Ohio; his son
William H. ³Bill² Wilcox and his wife, Elizabeth ³Bet² Todd, of Dallas,
Texas; his daughter, Martha Wilcox and her husband, Robert ³Bob² McIntyre,
of Alexandria, Va.; and by five grandchildren: James W. Soldano, Jennifer
Soldano Purcell, William B.T. Wilcox, Ellen E.T. Wilcox and Robert W. ³Rob²
Services will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at St. Stephen¹s
Episcopal Church. A reception for family and friends will follow at Pollard
The family asks that memorial donations be made to Aid to Distressed
Families of Appalachian Counties, P.O. Box 5953, Oak Ridge, TN 37831 and
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church 212 North Tulane Ave. Oak Ridge, TN 37830.