NEA Women in Business: Sally Wilson

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 449 views 

Sally L. Wilson
Former mayor (2019-2022); engineer
City of Osceola
Residence: Osceola
Education: Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering (magna cum laude)

What was your dream job and why? Engineering. I love using science and math to solve problems. Other good jobs that I have had include directing the local chamber of commerce and starting up and administering a charter school, but, my most beloved job was being mom to my three kids when they were young.

What advice would you give young women who are at the beginning of their careers? It’s the 21st century and we are still battling for true gender equality. Modern women have struggled for decades to be accepted into the workforce, tackling many a boys’ club, and fighting for a place at the board table. But even with that, go into every new adventure assuming that you are going to be treated equally. Trust those around you and take things lightly, but remember to speak up when you see injustice. Find and associate with a women’s group to have someone to bounce any concerns that you may face.

Moreso, it pleases me to see the encouraging attitude that today’s younger business women have for each other. It wasn’t always like this. Looking back 40 or 50 years ago, there wasn’t universal support like this. Unfortunately, women were often set against each other. That led to detrimental competition between business women. And there are still some of those kind of women out there. My advice is just avoid them if you can, and if not, make light of them.

Who have been mentors who’ve influenced your professional career? Dr. Tom Fry, University of Memphis, was the best engineering professor. Dr. Jim Shemwell, Arkansas Northeastern College, hired me to teach and train at Arkansas Northeastern College. My husband, Judge Ralph Wilson and our children Win Wilson (an attorney in Little Rock) and Lance Wilson have always given me great advice and help.

Sally Wilson.

Also, I have and have always had very strong women in my family who guide me. Our daughter, Debra Bell is a patent attorney and has three young sons. My late mother Lila Mettler Longo, graduated college after having all four of her children and went on to be a school principal and started, about 50 years ago the first free breakfast program in Tennessee schools. My big sister, Debi Reedy, co-owns a large real estate business and manages over 100 employees. My little sister, Dr. Susan Longo, built her own veterinarian hospital about 35 years ago in Annapolis, Maryland and she sold it last year. Our daughter-in-law, Dr. Brooke Wilson, is a medical doctor and mother to two of our grandchildren. My mother-in-law, Mary Ann Wilson, who holds an English degree from Vanderbilt, is still my steady mentor. My late father, Pete Longo, a math prodigy and pioneer (from the 1960s) in coding and transportation logistics, worked three jobs to provide for us and he convinced me that I could achieve my dreams. And his mother, my late Grandma, Clara Bowers, started her own small business in the 1950s and sold it shortly before she died to my aunt.

What has been the most fulfilling moment of your career so far? Actually, there were several moments in 2022 that were fulfilling for me as mayor of Osceola, including the announcements of the $3 billion US Steel/Big River Steel expansion, the $700 million HyBar steel mill new industry, and the new Hays Supermarket. Also, we had the ribbon cutting for Envirotech Vehicle, a commercial electric vehicle assembly plant, and the groundbreaking for Riverback Estates, a large upscale housing subdivision.

What’s the next big personal or career challenge you plan to take on? I decided to not seek reelection and focus on engineering, consulting, and training. I hope to help further develop the Mississippi County area in non-political roles. For instance, I hope to help small communities navigate through the channels to gain access to the millions of dollars in road and infrastructure funds made available by the recent federal bipartisan infrastructure law.

What’s the last good book you read? I am reading “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah. It’s a historical fiction novel that tells the story of two French sisters during World War II and their struggle to survive the German occupation while saving the lives of over 130 soldiers and children. In the novel, one sister said of the other, “Everything she did, she did full speed ahead, no brakes.” She sounds like my mother.