On June 8, the Pearly Gates opened wide and Heaven gave Willis a hero’s welcome. His death from a heart attack was a huge shock to all who knew him because he was the youngest 85-year-old you could ever meet. He was an inspiration, able to hike mountain trails, water ski and snow ski into his 80s. He was a kind, loving, adventurous, energetic, artistic, hard-working man, with a gentle wit. He loved Jesus, his family, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the Husky football team. His heavenly family was overjoyed to be reunited, but his earthly friends and family will miss him greatly.
He was born in Seattle and settled in the Sea-Tac area and attended Highline High School. He enlisted in the Navy during World War II and “fought the Battle of Bremerton.” After the war, he returned to Highline and was able to play football and to court his high school sweetheart, Gwen Phillips. They graduated in 1947. After high school, Willis attended the University of Washington for one year and fulfilled his dream of playing on the Husky football team.
He moved on to the Burnley School of Art, where he was able to refine his God-given artistic talent. After graduating from Burnley, Willis went to work for Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Company in the capacity of graphic artist. He spent about 15 years illustrating the telephone directory, travelling all over Washington. After so many years of too much time away from home, he took another position at “Ma Bell” and was able to devote more time to his family. He was an assistant Scout master and a member of the Snoqualmie Pass Ski Patrol. Willis took early retirement from AT&T in 1985.
Willis married Gwen in 1949, and they were together for 46 years until her passing in 1995. Together they raised two children; Bill and Lyn. After he retired, Willis and Gwen became snowbirds and enjoyed many winters in Coolidge, Ariz. As a lonely widow, Willis turned to a former neighbor, Annabelle Richards, for companionship. Their friendship blossomed and they were married in 2002. They first lived in Eatonville and then moved to Spanaway. They also spent many fun-filled and work-packed days at “Pancake Heaven,” the Phillips’ family retreat on Vashon Island. Together, they attended as many family birthday parties, weddings and graduations as humanly possible. Willis and Annabelle worshipped at the Eatonville Methodist Church and the Vashon Community Church.
He is preceded in death by his wife, Gwen: his son, Bill: his parents, “Brick” and Grace: his brother Jerry and his sister, Shirley. He is survived by his wife Annabelle, daughter Lyn Lang (Bruce), daughter-in-law Cindy Jacobus; grandchildren Amber Sawicki (Josh), Thea Chavez (Stephen), Billie Reade (Bill), Hunter Jacobus, Sean (Heidi) Lang and Jesse Langl his step-son Larry Richards (Beryl); nine great-grandchildren; his sister Suzanne Gehring (Dick), and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service celebrating Willis’ life will be held on July 14 at 2 p.m. at the Vashon Community Church. Island Funeral Service is in charge of arrangements. Please visit our online guest book at www.islandfuneral.com