Memories of friend and colleague Mike Wilder still vivid after five years

When Burlington Times-News reporter and friend Mike Wilder was in the final days of his 45 years on earth  I began compiling a list of things I would remember about him most. Funny how the little stuff sticks with you. I thought I’d share it again today, the five-year anniversary of his death from cancer on April 14, 2013, an event that shocked our newsroom and gained an outpouring of response from the Alamance County community.

You’re still spoken of, big guy, even after five years. He probably wouldn’t believe that, not at all. I imagine wherever he is, he’s wandering around in search of a candy dish.

Anyway, here goes …


On the day he was taken to the Alamance Regional Medical Center ER with what turned out to be serious health issues, he identified my spouse, Roselee Papandrea Taylor, as his sister.

He could do one unbelievable impression of the now late state Rep. Cary Allred, a person he admired, by the way.

When our online commenting started in the 2007, he posted anonymously under a variety of false names — but I could always tell when it was him and would call him on it. “But how did you find out?” he would ask with an anguished look on his face. (Hint, it wasn’t that hard if you really knew him).

Were all the things he labeled as such actually “cute”?

He’s the only person I know who could recite dialogue from the TV sitcom, “Benson.”

Favorite snacks in the breakroom machine — anything with a lot of salt on it. But his No. 1 choice when available usually came down to barbecue corn chips. My favorite, too.

He was addicted to soft peppermints.

His favorite candy bar? Zero. My favorite, too.

Well of course he made noises involuntarily.

At least we all thought it was involuntarily.

He couldn’t resist bending over and talking to any small child.

Any male younger than Mike, no matter how great or how small, would usually be called “big guy.”

Mikeism: “Oops, did I say that out loud? Sorry.”

He used to answer the phone, “Hello, this is nobody but Mike Wilder.”

He hated “statists.”

He was as nosy as all get out.

He once told me his role model was the Carol Burnett character Eunice on the sketch known as “Mama’s Family.”

Mikeism: “Whoopsie!”

Wandering around aimlessly was his hobby.

There was nothing aimless about it, though.

He always knew which offices contained candy dishes.

He knew the words to dozens of silly songs everybody learned as kids.

He sang one of them — “I’m a Little Teapot” — for our receptionist Vicky Davis — just to make her smile.

Mikeism: “I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a bad person.”

He liked to be a snob about opera.

He vocally hated things others loved — just to be contrary.

But he delighted in truly disliking the Beatles.

He referred to friends in the newsroom as “you people” when pushed too far.

He was an instigator, usually

So the man liked to gossip, OK?

He was an outstanding piano player, or so I was told.

He often played for people in retirement homes.

He derived great enjoyment from it. The retirees did, too.

Around 2008, he strongly considered becoming a pastor.

He would’ve been a great youth pastor, if you ask me.

In the school band he played the clarinet.

He liked Biscuitville’s sausage biscuits, doused in mustard.

He could speak intelligently on just about any subject, even if he wasn’t particularly interested in it.

When he did watch college basketball, he rooted for Duke.

He loved newspaper comics. He was kind of a nerd about it, actually.

He would find out things from me about my spouse, then use the information to torment her.

He had tremendous hearing and could pick up conversations from several feet away. I never had a discussion in my office that he didn’t hear and at some point repeat back to me.

He told me once that the two of us had a lot in common.

Know what? He was right.

TN mike diorama

When Mike was placed in the hospital and we learned how sick he was, people in our newsroom created this diorama so Mike could be in the newsroom he loved so much, always.

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