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On Thursday, May 16th at 11 a.m., Trisha Wilson, legendary founder of Wilson Associates, and one of the hospitality industry’s pioneers, will engage in a casual and lively conversation with HD editor in chief, Michael Adams. Here is a preview of their talk, as Wilson looks back on 40 years of creativity and philanthropy.

Looking back over the past four decades, what are a few of the memories you most cherish?
In 1975, I just finished the Anatole [Hotel] project [in Dallas]. I had six or seven employees, and I needed more work if I was going to be able to keep them, so I began cold-calling companies, and when Sheraton executives told me our operation wasn’t large enough to handle their project, I persuaded them to stop by our offices. But I had no offices! At that time, I had a small space on Carlisle Street and the adjacent space was vacant. The landlord let me use it for one day. I had a painter make a sign with the company name, and we hung it over the empty office. I rented drafting tables and phones with cords that went nowhere. Friends came over to sit at the desks. The Sheraton group arrived, saw our ‘operation,’ and we’ve been doing business with them ever since.

Also, securing the contract for the Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South Africa, in 1990, was a pivotal point for me. It was by far our largest contract ever at that point and catapulted Wilson Associates into a class all our own. It was a huge project and incredibly challenging. We were credited for ‘changing the face of design’ in Africa. This introduced me to Africa, which then led to years of giving back and saving lives not only there, but the U.S. as well.

And in 2007, Oprah Winfrey asked me to design the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. I was so honored to create this dream for her. She and I share a love and vision for the children of South Africa. Oprah’s vision was for a creative environment that would inspire beauty within each girl. While in South Africa, I invited Oprah to stay at my game lodge, Izingwe. She showed up with her entourage, and we had a great time taking her on safari.

How did you first fall in love with South Africa?

Even as a little girl, I always wanted to visit South Africa. I had a piggy bank that I fed once a week with a dollar or two to save up to go someday. I first fell in love with the country while designing the Palace of the Lost City—with the people and open terrain. It changed my life.

                          

When you started the Wilson Foundation, did you have any idea it would be so successful?

I had hopes that it would be this successful, and was determined to change lives and make a difference in the community of Vaalwater. I decided to ‘adopt’ this village and work to provide the children of this region with education and healthcare services that can and have changed their lives. Education is their way out—it is the great equalizer! I’ve seen a young man, July Letsebe, transition from his death bed to lead one of our community outreach programs, ‘Boys2Men,’ which makes me trust that we are doing something right.

Since its inception, the WF has built the Waterberg Academy, an independent college preparatory school that educates preschool through high school students. We recently added a new library, science, and technology center. We also funded Waterberg Welfare Society, a private clinic, which predominantly treats those suffering from HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, such as airborne TB.

Now that you are changing roles at Wilson Associates, what are you most eager to do with a bit more extra time?

I can’t wait to see where the future takes me. I look forward to this new chapter in my life and my creative juices are already on overload! This isn’t the end for me. hd

 





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