ROBERT BRUCE WILSON, M.D. – A well-known figure both in the earlier and alter stages of Portland’s development was that of Doctor Robert Bruce Wilson, the son of Holt Wilson, of Virginia. He was born June 12, 1828, in the historic city of Portsmouth, in the Old Dominion, of which his father was an honored and substantial citizen. At an early age he finished a thorough course of medicine at the University of Virginia, but in so doing became deprived of sight in his left eye, a loss peculiarly unfortunate to one in his profession.
Joining in the impulse common to the most enterprising and adventurous men of the time, he made his way around Cape Horn to California in 1849, and set out with pick and shovel for the mines, but true to his vocation soon reassumed professional life. After practicing for a short time in San Francisco, he accepted the position of surgeon on the steamer Gold Hunter, running down the California coast. While in that service the steamer made in December, 1850, a trip to Portland; and the Doctor decided to cast in his lot with that then new settlement. Thus was begun a career in his profession to which he did eminent credit throughout, working with an ardor greater than a simple desire for a livelihood, or even for wealth, would warrant.
He never refused the calls of duty, but responded alike to rich and poor. He was an earnest student, keeping always fully abreast of the times, and taking advantage of the latest ideas and inventions that might render his endeavors more effective. thus he became a power not only in alleviating distress, but in elevating the tone of his profession, which, in those days of isolation from the outer world, before telegraph and railroad communication, might have been in greater danger of being lowered. It is difficult to estimate the value to our city of a man possessed of his culture, and of conscientious application to his profession. He had that peculiar force of character, and, as it may be said, that ideality, which held him true to the requirements of his chosen occupation, and which would in any case or in any part of the world have kept him in the lead, both in the scientific and the practical, or in the applied department of medicine. He was one of those men of whom Oregon furnishes a number of examples, who preserve within themselves the motives to high and assiduous endeavor.
In September, 1854, he married the eldest daughter of Captain John H. Couch, the eminent pioneer of Portland’s commerce; and in the course of a singularly happy married life he had a large family of sons and daughters whom it was his great privilege to live to see grow up, not only to revere his example, but, in the persons of his sons, to take up with credit the walk and profession that he had adorned.
With the exception of a three-years’ trip to Europe, his labors were uninterrupted, and naturally told on a constitution not too robust. He died of pneumonia, after a short illness, in August, 1887, having prepared for himself the reward of a life not spent in vain, and leaving the world better and richer by the leaven of his culture and kindly heart.