Dr. James William Willis, 77, of Little Rock, and loving father, grandfather, great grandfather, cousin, teacher, mentor, and friend, passed peacefully surrounded by family on April 25, 2016 at the Home Hospice Care Center in Little Rock.
Dr. Willis was born and raised in Drew County. He served in the Army for three years, during which time he was a member of the Army Security Agency and a graduate of the Army Language School at Monterey, CA, where he studied Russian. After returning home, he graduated from Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello) in 1960, and earned his Masters and Doctoral degrees in History and Education from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1966 and 1970.
Willis was an educator. He taught History at Lovington (New Mexico) High School, was principal of Prairie Grove High School, assistant professor at Fort Hays (Kansas) State University, dean at Claremore (Oklahoma) Junior College, superintendent of schools at Mountain Home, and retired as Professor Emeritus from Murray (Kentucky) State University in 2005. After retirement, he returned to Arkansas where he was adjunct for the University of Arkansas at Monticello and, more recently, was an active participant and contributor at LifeQuest of Arkansas in Little Rock.
Willis authored four books. His first, Arkansas Confederates in the Western Theater, received the Douglas Southall Freeman Award for “Best Work in Southern History from Colonial Period to the Present” and the SA Cunningham Award for “Best Works by an Arkansas Author or Materials Concerning Arkansas During the War for Southern Independence.” His second civil war novel, The Other Side of Silence, won the 2007 iUniverse Publisher’s Choice Award. The third and fourth, an autobiography titled What Almost Did Not Happen, and The History of Everything Important from Existence to 2525: An Anthropomorphic Allegory, are most treasured by family and friends.
James was preceded in death by his parents, Earl William Willis and Lela (McKinstry) Willis of Monticello. He is survived by his sons James Wesley of Texas, and Robert and wife Rachel of Little Rock; step-daughters Hayley Treider of New York and Hope Treider of Tennessee; grandchildren Bethany, Johnathan, Kimberly, Jessica, Richard, and Robyn; and his great grandchildren Michaela, William, Jaeger, Charlotte, Ryan, and Samuel.
A celebration of Willis’ life will be held on May 28 at 11 a.m. at the Stephenson-Dearman Funeral Home, 943 Highway 425 North, Monticello Arkansas, 71657.