Arthur Wills Jr., 1951-2005
Tulane University was in Arthur Wills Jr.'s blood. His father worked at Tulane for 35 years. And Wills Jr. did him two better, logging 37 years as a jack of all trades in the Tulane University Medical Library, where he worked as a courier, book shelver and member of the support staff.
"I'll never forget the week he was assigned to the library, he came home and locked himself in his bedroom and memorized every inch of that place," said his mother, Joyce L. Wills, "And he took pride in knowing what went where and just exactly how things were supposed to look at all times."
His attention to work detail was exceeded only by his affection for the people he came in contact with at the library.
"He really loved life," library director William Postell Jr. said. "There just wasn't anyone that Arthur wasn't friends with here at Tulane. He was one of those guys that just knows and cares to know everyone and everything. Arthur was a good man."
Wills was a born-and-raised New Orleanian who participated in many of the city's celebratory customs, marching with the Golden Trumpets Social Aid and Pleasure Club in the Zulu parade every Mardi Gras, cheering on the Green Wave every Saturday and the Saints every Sunday during football season.
In 1976, when he fell in love with Fredia Germaine, he settled down a bit and threw himself into his new role as a surrogate parent to Germaine's grandson, Derrick Potter. When Germaine died in 1987, Wills' mother, Joyce Wills, moved in with Arthur to help raise Potter.
The three shared a house on Conti Street and then moved to Banks Street. Wills was a protective guardian, preoccupied with Derrick's safety, insisting that he take swimming lessons even though Wills himself had never learned to swim.
When Katrina approached on Aug. 28, the three of them separated -- Arthur stayed at the house, Joyce helped a disabled friend evacuate her 9th Ward home and Derrick went to be with Arthur's brother, Piernas.
Derrick returned to the house days after the storm, but Arthur was not inside. The family evacuated to Houston, but Arthur's whereabouts remained a mystery until October, when his body was found in a garden two blocks from their home.
"I never thought in my life that this storm would take my son," Joyce Wills said. "He was just such a good man, a good father and friend. I miss his smile. Shoot, I even miss the little arguments I would have with my baby."
Now living in Houston, Potter said his biggest regret is not staying behind with the man he considered his father.
"I am sure he was out there looking for us," he said. "And I just wish that I could have been there to help him. He taught me that, to always be there for people you love."
Published in The Times-Picayune