Robert Alexander Willis, 83, writer and retired newspaperman, of Fincastle, died June 11, 2013, peacefully at home. He is survived by his beloved wife, Karen Engwall Willis, of Fincastle; a brother, William Warner Willis Jr. of Madison, Ga.; a son, Michael Bruce Willis, of Roanoke; a daughter, Paula Christine Willis, of Roanoke; a son, Jeffrey Thomas Willis, of Sugar Hill, Ga.; a grandson, Jason Robert Willis, of Roanoke; and a great-granddaughter, Virginia Lee Willis, of Roanoke, to whom he was always "Baba." He was predeceased by a son, Daniel Alexander Willis. Very much a member of the Fincastle family was the black standard poodle, Max.
Bob was a child of the Great Depression, born in Atlanta, Ga., in the month of the stock market crash of 1929, and grew to be a lifelong Democrat, revering Franklin D. Roosevelt and the social contract embodied in the New Deal. Educated in the public schools of Clayton County, Ga., and the City of Atlanta, Ga., he graduated in 1950 from the University of Georgia
with a B.A. in journalism, then in 1951 earned an M.A. in English from the University of Iowa
. Afterward he served three years in the United States Army, during which time he studied Russian at what is now the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.
He worked 36 years in the news business, with the Associated Press in Charlotte, N.C. and New York City, N.Y., and with the Ledger-Star of Norfolk, and The Roanoke Times & World-News, the last as associate editor of its editorial page. At various times he was Southwest Virginia correspondent for The Catholic Virginian, published by the Diocese of Richmond, and wrote news and features for The Fincastle Herald.
He was fond of saying that during his career he often felt like pinching himself as if to wake from a dream: "Here I am, doing what I've wanted to do since I was 12 years old." So much did he love newspapering that he looked forward to going to work each day, something not every person can say about his or her employment. He also loved the craft of writing, and enjoyed working even on this, his obituary.
He was the youngest of four surviving children of parents who, in a much different era, granted their offspring long leashes and never had reason to regret it. As such, he found parenting his own in the 1960s and 1970s a challenge to which he often felt unequal. In his later years, he felt at last that if he had the task to do over, he would do it somewhat better.
He was a lover of baseball, in particular a fan of the Atlanta Braves, and of books and of many kinds of music. He was a fitness buff from middle age into the years when his health and strength limited such activities. He admired people of intellect, open mind, generous judgment and communal ideals. He often fell shy of his own standards, but hoped that others would be forgiving of his shortcomings and ready to make up where he had failed.
In lieu of flowers send donations to
, 2840 Electric Road, Suite 106, Roanoke, VA 24018.
A farewell party will be held at the Kyle House, 101 East Main Street, Fincastle, June 23, 2013 from 3 to 5 p.m. Condolences may be made to www.rader-funeralhome.com
. Rader Funeral Home is honored to serve the family. 540-992-1212.