Life Story: Science teacher J. Patrick Wilsey (1956-2021)


Photo courtesy of Tyler Wilsey

Guardian Staff

Science and rock ‘n’ roll don’t normally go together. 

“But Pat [Wilsey] blended the two seamlessly,” chemistry teacher Colin Rice said in an email. “Pat was one of the coolest teachers in the school, and I do not believe all of his students realized this.”

Wilsey partook in many musical pastimes. The Elk Grove science teacher was an integral part of the all-staff music club and he even played in a band with other EG teachers. He was an expert when it came to music and his subject matter. 

Wilsey died in December at the age of 65. The educator, avid Chicago sports fan, and music aficionado was one of Elk Grove High School’s most admired and dedicated science teachers thanks to his broad range of interests and infectious personality. 

Wilsey, who was a teacher for about 30 years, taught chemistry and environmental science at Elk Grove. He taught and coached football at EG, as well as Notre Dame College Prep for boys before he arrived at EGHS. 

Outside of his love of music, his passion for activism did not go unnoticed by teachers and students. Wilsey was enthusiastic about educating his students on global warming and what the future could look like.

Janet Perez, a senior who took Wilsey’s environmental science class, said that she greatly enjoyed and appreciated her first semester class with him.

One of Wilsey’s primary projects was the ongoing effort to put an end to climate change. His students in his first and seventh period classes said they admired his love of the environment. 

“It really got you thinking about life,” Perez said. “This is what is going on in the world, this is the message, this is how to make it better.”

Sure, the subject was enticing, but Wilsey blended his musical interests into class as well. A die-hard Neil Young and Bob Dylan fan, Wilsey performed songs from the artists on his guitar for his science classes before the end of the first semester. 

This was one of Perez’s favorite memories of Wilsey.

“I just had a great moment listening to him,” Perez said.

Wilsey formed similar connections with teachers in his department and throughout the school thanks to his love of music and science. Rice and Wilsey worked in the science department together and often had lunch with one another in room 212. There, they would share stories and jokes that sent the room into laughter.  

Fellow physics teacher Peter Wang played in a band with Wilsey and other EG staff members in the early 2000s. Wilsey sang and played guitar while Wang played bass. Their group often performed for school events. 

“The first time we actually played together was for a school thing in 2002 for a one-book one-school thing,” Wang said. “We were all doing the Johnny Krakauer novel, ‘Into Thin Air.’”

To create excitement for an upcoming talent show, staff members had to create advertisements. Wilsey and Wang decided to write a song for the novel and play it during the school announcements. 

Wang said that was the moment when they became good friends. 

“We had performances and played with some other different groups around the school,” Wang said. “We played rock ‘n’ roll and it was fun.”

Wilsey’s daughter Tyler created a memorial site for their father. According to the site, Wilsey may have owned up to 10,000 CDs and that his collection was incredibly diverse. Wang backed up this statement. According to Wang, Wilsey would occasionally throw country music or R&B into his regular rock ‘n’ roll-dominated playlists.

Wilsey’s lifestyle and demeanor was noticed in the halls of Elk Grove. Described by many of his co-workers and friends as a hilariously kind, free-spirited soul, many have said Wilsey lived on his own terms and didn’t conform to societal standards if he did not believe in them.

Japanese teacher Ryan Christie noticed this about Wilsey and considered him an idol. Though he only knew him for three and a half years, Christie said he began to establish a connection with him at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Every other Thursday, several teachers hop onto a Zoom call to discuss music, and music only. He got to know Wilsey pretty well through the club’s uproarious meetings.

“Twenty-five years on, I hope to be just like him, wearing band tees, flannels, and jeans and [talking] about music in class,” Christie said. 

According to his memorial website, a celebration of his life is postponed until conditions during Covid-19 are safer for many more to attend.

In lieu of flowers, the Wilsey family asked for donations to go to the Sunrise Movement Education Fund, which is a youth movement to end climate change, according to the memorial website.

Wilsey is also an organ donor through the Gift of Hope Network, according to the memorial website. 

He is survived by his wife of 40 years Sue, his daughter Tyler, and their wife Erin Lindgren Wilsey.

“He was a very caring individual who cared about getting to know students and teachers very well,” Wang said. “He liked to clown around a little, but he was academic and enjoyed teaching too.”