Beatrice Wilder’s book “Florida Faith” is a compilation of her “Timelines” columns from the Central Florida Episcopalian. It is available on Amazon at:
She was many things to many people – sister, aunt, colleague, poet, choir member, Sunday School teacher – but Beatrice “Bea” Wilder’s greatest gift to others might have been writing herself into one of the Episcopal Church’s greatest historiographers.
A lifelong writer and editor who also worked as a public relations executive and Spanish teacher during her career, Wilder made her biggest mark as editorial librarian for the Central Florida Episcopalian, diocesan historiographer, and librarian of the C. Arthur Yergey Memorial Library at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Orlando. She wrote scores of articles, published a book of her articles about the Episcopal Church, and helped grow the libraries of the diocese, the Cathedral, and All Saints Episcopal Church in Winter Park into monumental book collections.
It’s safe to say Wilder cast her legacy into stone; it is a legacy fondly remembered today by friends and family after her death on March 27. She was 106.
“Beatrice was an extremely valuable colleague,” said Joe Thoma, former communications director for the diocese, in an email. “She had personal knowledge of the history of the church and an excellent grasp of our voluminous archives. Her attention to detail in writing her monthly column for the Central Florida Episcopalian and proofreading the entire publication showed her encyclopedic knowledge of the Episcopal Church, the diocese and every one of its churches, current and past. She continued to proofread for me in retirement.
“Putting her book together was a special privilege for me,” Thoma said. “It is a collection of her columns, which are still great reads – both witty and erudite.”
A New York native, Wilder was well-known for her sense of humor, a funny aside to her striking genius, no pun intended. She earned several degrees, including a master’s in history, and could speak four languages: English, French, Latin, and Spanish. But she could make you laugh as easily as impress you with her smarts.
“She was well-known for her genius in history and her insatiable appetite for reading, which was reflected in her wittiness,” said Wilder’s niece, Mary Manry, who served as caregiver for Bea. Wilder, who never married and had no children, moved from Orlando to Manry’s home in Land O’ Lakes in February 2013 before a fall forced her to rehab in Tampa in 2014, where she lived the final years of her life. “Indeed, she had a style for living a godly life by example that was orderly, positive, humorous, and uplifting.”
Looking back, Manry will tell you that Wilder lived life to the fullest, writing, traveling, hiking, and much more. Wilder told her niece she climbed most of the mountains in New York and once walked from New York to Connecticut.
“I greatly miss her stories from growing up in New York City and family summer vacations in Asbury Park (New Jersey) and along the Eastern seacoast,” Manry said.
But it may have been Wilder’s undying love for history and writing that set her apart from many. A sharp memory certainly helped her along the way.
“When you asked Bea what her favorite Bible verse was, to my amazement she would recite whole chapters in the Bible,” Manry said. “Her memory was razor sharp, citing much poetry, anthems, high school alma maters, French national anthem, ‘Te Deum,’ and so much more.”
Beatrice Bernice Wilder grew up Episcopal, and her commitment to the church grew with her writing and interest in being a librarian. She turned a volunteer position at the diocese into a paid position over time and wrote articles for numerous publications.
“She also loved her longstanding prayer circle of friends at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where she was the librarian,” Manry said.