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Our kind hearted son, Rick Neil Wilcox, passed away on June 6, 2020, in Lexington, Kentucky. Rick was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 25, 1990, and attended school in Park City, Utah. He had several friends from an early age that remained friends for many years. Rick was so friendly and welcoming and often brought the new kid home to visit while in elementary school. He also grew up with some very close cousins enjoying time at grandparents, camping and exploring Disneyland.
Basketball was Rick’s game as a youth and he really enjoyed The Utah Jazz with his friends. He was an excellent basketball player in his many years in Junior Jazz and one year on a competitive team. He continued to play basketball with friends for several years and was truly a natural. The competitive team coach wanted Rick for a second year. However, Rick was anxious and commented he did not understand the coach’s drawings and instructions so just did what he thought was best. Unbeknown to us, this was a characteristic of a learning disability we learned about later. Baseball was also a game Rick was very good at and enjoyed. He played a lot of baseball with his Dad coaching little league for about five of the seven years he played.
He loved music (underground rap, classic rock, some classical, folk and LOTS in-between), trivia (he sometimes made up games so he could talk trivia knowledge with others), vocabulary, dogs, books and bookstores. Watching and discussing movies and making people laugh with his witty and dry sense of humor were other favorite past times. When Rick was little, he was quite verbal and loved word games like name-all-the-words-that-are-similar such as unusual: unique, different, weird, atypical, odd, etc. He made up his own words and we slowly learned what they meant. By age two he had a huge vocabulary and could name his colors, card suits, numbers and Rocky Mountain wildlife from a favorite book. Letters and sounds came by age three. These strengths were also indicative of the obscure learning disability we yet knew nothing about. Music truly spoke to Rick and he wanted a song for everything! The car, truck, Rick, Mommy, Daddy, brother, pool and other songs were born! Rick played a Christmas event one year, about 2009, with his clarinet in a band dubbed “Rick Wilcox and the Junkyard Dogs”. His rendition of Holly Jolly Christmas was a hit in spite of his nerves. He had many favorite songs and enjoyed sharing them with others.
Some friends of Rick commented, “Rick was a no BS kind of guy.” You knew where you stood with Rick because he would likely let you know. One early example of Rick’s honesty was at a baseball game, maybe 5th grade, where he played first base well with his tall frame and long arms. He caught the ball, tagged the player and the umpire called an out. Cheers all around (from our team!) As the kid trotted off the field Rick went over to the ump and let him know he had not actually touched the runner so he wasn’t really out. The umpire called the runner back in the game. Wow!
Rick lived in Los Angeles for about three years after high school working at various jobs and learning about life. He then lived in Kentucky and Park City off and on since 2012. He made many friends and acquaintances over the years from all over the country and abroad who knew his kind heart, honest opinions (no BS kind of guy), sweet soul and wonderful sense of humor. Many shared in his struggles with support and understanding. Several of them shared stories and comments with us. One told us the story of a few instances during intense and serious groups where Rick would say something absolutely hilarious at the perfect time. All burst into laughter, including the leader, the tension eased and discussion continued. Another person shared he hated going to his job but working with Rick made it so much more tolerable with his endless humor during the day. One more commented about Rick staying up late with him to go over some assignments on selfishness and self-centeredness, even though Rick had an early day at work the next day. He doesn’t remember the exact words but noted that Rick’s actions painted the picture quite clearly.
Rick loved to be with his family when we could all make it work. Through the years, we enjoyed some hiking, camping, skiing a bit, watching movies, trying new foods and hanging out in general and at bookstores. One of his favorite camping spots as a kid was at Granite Creek, Wyoming, with his extended family. He was a real trooper as a youngster on short to medium backpacking trips. We all hiked, biked and backpacked in the Utah Mountains and deserts and in the Arizona deserts.
Rick always loved trying new food and was never a picky eater. He tried escargot when he was 7 ½! He was so intrigued by unusual things to eat that his aunt gifted him one of his favorite presents, the Eat a Bug cookbook. Only a couple of tame recipes were attempted but he read and discussed all of them. He loved fact-based books and easily soaked up movie, music and Disney information and regaled others with the facts he so enjoyed.
Our last Christmas physically together was December 2017. A big snow hit that day and Rick was excited. Kentucky doesn’t get much snow so he enjoyed every minute of it, even the shoveling. A favorite comment from an old journal of his mom’s was that Rick was asked what he wanted for Christmas one year in grade school and he said, “Whatever I get.” It was a joy to open presents with Rick as he grew up. He always took his time and savored the moments and the time together. He was not a gimme kid.
Excessive anxiety and possibly depression afflicted Rick from a very early age. As a young child, he was frequently worried and would get very stressed if anyone was mad at or mean to him or in unplanned or chaotic situations. He responded to kindness and gentleness. He tried really hard to do the right thing and to help others. The anxiety and worry continued causing social anxiety and tension as he grew older. But he also genuinely enjoyed school through elementary and middle school and really relished meeting new people, playing sports and having fun. He struggled more in the later grades when testing revealed a somewhat obscure learning disability called non-verbal learning disability (NLD). Not many people, including his parents, teachers or counselors, knew exactly what it was, how it manifested or how to work with it. We did a lot of reading and now know it caused much of his anxiety and academic challenges beyond elementary school. As noted, he was very verbal and did well on rote learning. When more abstract thinking, planning, and executive functioning skills (non-verbal skills) were required, he struggled and his anxiety and difficulties intensified. This caused some problems with his school work, social interactions and decision making. Then he attempted to self-medicate to control the constant anxiety. He struggled for a long time to overcome the anxiety problems as well as issues that come from self-medicating.
Rick succumbed to a common, deadly disease in June of 2020. He suffered for many years with the mental health issues of clinical anxiety, paranoia and depression, the obscure learning disability NLD, and severe substance use disorder. Addiction and mental health diagnoses are recognized medical conditions of the brain that affect people of all socioeconomic levels and backgrounds. Yet the diseases and sometimes ensuing deaths are still associated with negative social stigma and blame for the person and/or family for moral failure. Openly and actively discussing thoughts and feelings surrounding these issues and resulting loss of life can help our society grow more compassionate and work toward solutions. It can help reduce the stigma and encourage more people, those suffering from mental health issues and addictions and their families and friends, to seek and find support.
Having had these serious medical conditions does not change the fact that Rick was loved and befriended by many. He will be remembered for his loyalty, kindness, empathy, fantastic humor, impulsiveness and continued efforts to overcome his complicated health challenges. There is no shame or blame regarding these issues with Rick. There is sadness, love and memories and much more we could tell you about this great guy. He is survived by his parents Neil and Theresa Wilcox, brother Craig, grandmother Arlene Rudy and many cousins, aunts, uncles and friends.
Many thanks to all the owners, managers, staff and residents of Liberty Ranch in Kentucky and Liberty House in Los Angeles for your recovery work and dedication to helping the family and loved ones afflicted with addiction and mental health problems. Rick was a better man having known you and sharing experiences with you.
If you or your loved one is suffering from alcohol or addiction issues you may want to reach out to AA, Al-Anon, Family Anonymous, Smart Recovery, The Liberty Ranch (or other facilities) or local services in your county or place of worship. CONNECT in Summit County, Utah, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in your area can assist with mental health support and services. Many resources are available online. With more education and understanding we can help reduce the stigma, help ourselves and help others to get assistance.
Will you please consider donations in honor of Rick Wilcox to one or more of the following nonprofits?
• Your local homeless or animal shelter
• CONNECT in Summit County, Utah, or NAMI in your area
• VOA, Volunteers of America (secure online donation)
• Over My Head Shelter (mail a check to OMH 150 Turner St, Somerset, KY 42503)
• Flourish Bakery: flourishslc.org (secure online donation)
Memorial services will be held at 11:00 am. Mountain Time on Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 at Nelson Family Mortuary, 4780 N. University Avenue, Provo. Masks will be required for those in attendance. If you are unable to wear a mask please view webcasting in lieu of attendance.
If you wish to share a memory of Rick, please send video to firstname.lastname@example.org or upload through the memory wall above.