Wilson Retires as Torrance City Clerk Because of Failing Health

Times Staff Writer

Citing poor health, Torrance City Clerk Donald E. Wilson, a 16-year veteran of the City Council and a former school board member, announced his retirement this week.

Wilson, 65, has been battling bone cancer for several months, city officials said, and has had to curtail his working hours substantially.

“It has been an honor to serve with each of you and with staff for the past several years,” Wilson said in a letter given to the City Council on Monday. “Torrance is truly an All-American City, and it has been my privilege to participate in its governance.”

Wilson was not available for comment.


He will leave his post Friday. Deputy City Clerk Dora Hong said the council has three options: It can appoint someone to serve out Wilson’s term, which ends in March, 1990, call a special election or leave the post vacant until the 1990 election.

Hong said a special election is unlikely because it would cost about $100,000.

Wilson was director of teacher education at USC for 21 years before assuming the full-time clerk’s post in 1986. He had spent three years as a school board member, followed by four straight terms on the City Council.

“He is supportive of his staff,” Hong said. “He lets us carry on the way we know best. . . . He has an unusual quality for being willing to listen to his employees.”


Wilson, a fourth-generation educator, served in the Navy during World War II, earned a doctorate in education from UCLA, was ordained a minister in the Church of Christ after college and began teaching in 1948. Following 11 years as assistant director of teacher education at USC, he was appointed director in 1965.

As a conservation-minded member of the state Coastal Commission, Wilson was accused in 1980 of soliciting campaign funds from developers. He voluntarily stepped down from his position and later was cleared of wrongdoing by the attorney general’s office.

In 1984, Wilson decided not to run for a fifth term on the City Council after receiving public criticism for supporting a federally subsidized housing program for low-income families in 1980.

He won the city clerk’s position in 1986 after the incumbent, Donna Babb, dropped out of the race following an investigation by the district attorney’s office into possible misuse of public funds. No charges were filed against Babb.

Mayor Katy Geissert praised Wilson’s constant support for city purchases of open land and credited him with bringing calm and effective operations to the clerk’s office, which she said had been plagued by personal conflicts and inefficiency.

“I have great respect for Don, not only as a former council member but as a human being,” Geissert said.

Under his leadership, the city clerk’s office was recognized in 1987 by the City Clerks’ Assn. of California for “excellence and innovation in organization and administration” because of a computerized management system.