His grandfather was a prominent Episcopal priest and a founder of Virginia Theological Seminary. His father was the second bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama. William Holland Wilmer chose a different course for his life’s work and after graduation from the University of Virginia Medical School, devoted his career to treating diseases of the eye. He practiced ophthalmology in Washington until 1925 when he went to Baltimore to establish the Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University. He later returned to Washington as a professor at Georgetown University, where he served for the next 28 years. During this time he was also a surgeon at the Episcopal Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, an institution Epiphany played a part in founding and supporting.
Wilmer married Re Lewis Smith and the couple was married at her church in Philadelphia. After moving to Washington, they became associated with Epiphany. All of their children were baptized there by his father, Bishop Wilmer. During World War I, Dr. Wilmer served in the U.S. Air Service and was a pioneer in the establishment of visual requirements and ocular conditions for aviators. Wilmer’s name appears on the World War I plaque at the rear of the nave at Epiphany. Throughout his life, Dr. Wilmer served faithfully as a trustee of the National Cathedral Foundation. After his death, he was interred in the Cathedral Crypt. The plaque nearby reads: “A physician of surpassing skill, a great surgeon and investigator, who with humbleness of mind and unbounded sympathy, brought sight to the blind, and dedicated his life to the welfare of the suffering and to the glory of God.”