Ralph Wilson served two masters. He had a distinguished career in metallurgy and was equally well-known for his devotion to fine arts. Throughout his life, Wilson acquired an extensive collection of paintings. After graduation from Lehigh, he worked in metallurgy from 1948 until his retirement in 1964.
Wilson served on government advisory committees for metallurgy during and after World War II. An active member of the American Society of Metals, Wilson served as its president for a term. He also was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other professional societies. A Fellow in Perpetuity of the Cleveland Museum of Art, he also served on the board of the Canton Institute of Art. Wilson's primary interests were contemporary American art and prints. He began donating art to Lehigh in 1951, at the suggestion of the late Francis Quirk, professor of fine arts, and sponsored an annual exhibit of contemporary American art.
Lehigh awarded Wilson an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters in 1979. He served as president of the Alumni Association, and was on the Board of Trustees from 1958 until his death in 1979. Most of Wilson's art collection was donated to Lehigh University. In 1966, he established the Anne Elizabeth Wilson Fine Arts Fund, named in honor of his mother, to support the permanent art collection, lectures by artists and other needs of the exhibition program. Wilson's widow, Mrs. Margretta Bockius Wilson, bequeathed a second fund to Lehigh for the same purposes. The Ralph Wilson Gallery, located in the Alumni Memorial Building, is named in his honor.