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Thomas W. Willis was born in Pitt County, North Carolina, in 1923 to Dr. W.M. Willis and Annie Randolph Jones.1 After graduating from Farmville High School, Willis enrolled in Randolph Macon Military Academy and Wake Forest College.2 He earned his B.S. in Political Science in 1948 at Wake Forest and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a short time but did not complete degree requirements.3
Willis served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 until 1946, participating in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres during WWII. After the war, he was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.4 Willis returned to North Carolina, accepting a position as the Assistant City Manager of Raleigh from 1948 until 1950 before accepting the Newton City Manager position, which he held until 1956. That year, he joined the Department of Conservation and Development staff as an industry hunter, but returned to Farmville to join the Economic Council from 1957 until 1964.5
Thomas Willis was very active in the Farmville community, serving as a member of the Board of Stewards of the Farmville Methodist Church, the Board of Directors of the Pitt County Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Vice President of the Pitt County United Fund, and the President of the Farmville Kiwanis Club.6
In 1964, Willis joined East Carolina University’s newly created Regional Development Institute (RDI). The institute focused on the development of thirty-two local counties. In 1969, he was named “The News and Observer’s Tar Heel of the Week,” and in 1974, East Carolina University named the Institute’s headquarters for him. In 1981, Willis resigned from his ECU post with the RDI.7
Thomas Willis died in December 1983. He was survived by his wife, Hope Marie Wetherington, with whom he fathered two children, Tomianne and Henry. Memorial services were held at Farmville United Methodist Church, of which he was a member.8
1 "Biographical Data Form,"
2 James W. Batten, In Retrospect, p. 99.
3 "Biographical Data Form,"
4 Batten, In Retrospect, p. 99; "Biographical Data Form,"
5 "Biographical Data Form,"
6 Batten, In Retrospect, p. 99.
7 "Thomas Willis dies, was former director of ECU institute," Raleigh News and Observer," December 27 1983.
8 "Thomas Willis dies, was former director of ECU institute," Raleigh News and Observer," December 27 1983.
5 James W. Batten, In Retrospect, p. 52.