“Lead and the net will appear” — Sean Lilly Wilson
Sean Lilly Wilson
(Founder and Chief Executive Optimist, Fullsteam Brewery)
There is one incredible individual you have to thank for the amazing craft beer scene we have in North Carolina. He lead the Pop the Cap movement, an organziation whose lobbying helped lift the 6% ABV cap on beer in our state, and the Permit Beer coalition, who pushed for permit adjusts to generate economic growth, new job creation and increased visibility for North Carolina breweries. He also helped create and eventually lead the North Carolina Brewers Guild.
Of course, I am talking about Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery.
It is amazing to think that he has done all of that, while also creating and leading one of the areas most unique and successful breweries.
Fullsteam Brewery is dedicated to creating distinctly Southern beer that celebrates the culinary and agricultural traditions of the South. Sean and team hope to do this by “pioneering a Southern Beer Economy through the act of commerce, where our purchases (and yours!) foster new jobs, create wealth, and encourage entrepreneurship within the agricultural South.”
And by incorporating locally grown hops, sweet potatoes, persimmons, pork and spices, Fullsteam is able to create truly unique beer that supports and grows our local economy.
It’s incredibly inspiring to have such a steadfast pride in your product, while also aligning yourself with such an altruistic grander mission. It says a lot about Sean as a person.
I can personally say that the first time I got to know Sean was in 2011 when he graciously donated beer for our Movember fundraiser gala. Not only did Sean and the Fullsteam crew donate, but they rallied together to raise money themselves and Sean even personally came and poured beer at the event. That is the epitome of someone who genuinely cares and actively participates in his community. I will never forget that incredible act of kindness.
Like many people on this list, I am so inspired by Sean’s incredible humility and heart, in addition to all of success.
But what most people don’t know is that Sean’s personal story is equally inspiring. At the age of three, Sean was orphaned due a tragic incident with his mother. He was adopted and raised by an incredible family, whom he regularly acknowledges with helping shape him into the person he is today.
And despite that hardship, Sean went on to attend Wheaton College, where he earned his B.A. in Communications and Sociology before later attending Duke University to earn his MPP in Public Policy and his MBA with a marketing concentration.
But if that weren’t hard enough, it was during those graduate studies that Sean was diagnosed in 1999 with kidney disease. He was told that he would gradually lose kidney function over the coming five to ten years. Six years later, in 2005, his kidney function fell to just 10%. He was added to the donor waiting list and began dialysis.
As Sean tells the story:
“My doctors presented living donation and waiting for a deceased donor at the same time. I added my name to two separate transplant lists (Duke and Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte). It seemed like the wait was going to be very, very long. Meanwhile, a number of friends and family offered to be tested — most notably, of course, my lovely wife Carolyn! She explored organ donation prior to me going on dialysis.
Time was the main factor: that it could take years for me to receive a deceased donor’s kidney. Also, my doctors informed me that the success rate of a deceased donor’s kidney would be lower than a living donor — even if the organ came from a healthy younger person. Third, there’s something about knowing the person who gives you life. I recall thinking that, even if the kidney donation didn’t take, Carolyn was giving me the ultimate gift.
Between all the testing and evaluations, it took around six months to confirm that she was an appropriate match. Thankfully, all the tests confirmed that Carolyn was indeed a good match for me, and she donated her kidney to me on June 12, 2006.”
An inspiring and powerful story.
So, it is for all of these reasons that I find Sean Lilly Wilson incredibly inspiring.
He has overcome significant challenges to become one of the most creative and successful brewers in the US, as well as North Carolina. He has been featured in numerous beer-centric television programs that have highlighted both the inventiveness of Fullsteam’s products, but also the work they are doing to build a local beer economy. But maybe most importantly, he has done all of this while staying true to a philosophy of high-quality craftsmanship as part of a much grander mission to give back.
Thank you, Sean for everything you’ve done and continue to do.