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Winfrey Morel Willis

1921 - 2013 Obituary Condolences
Winfrey Morel Willis Obituary
Winfrey Morel Willis

Nashville, TN

Winfrey Alberta Morel Willis, age 91, former longtime resident of Nashville, passed away peacefully Sunday, October 20, 2013 in Orlando, Florida, where she had made her home for the past few years.

A private burial will be held in Rose Hill Cemetery, where her ashes will be interred with her first husband, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, John Harlan Willis, Pharmacist's Mate First Class, U. S. Navy. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements, and condolences may be offered online at

The family suggests memorials to Wounded Warrior Project, P. O. Box 758517, Topeka, Kansas 66675 or Rose Hill Cemetery, P. O. Box 1015, Columbia, TN 38402.

Born October 23, 1921 at the old home place on Morel Road in the Sawdust Community of Maury County, Tennessee, she was the fourth child of the late Herbert Albert Morel and Lou Ella Dame Morel. She attended Woodrow Elementary School and was a 1940 graduate of Columbia Central High School, where she met her high school sweetheart - John Harlan Willis, future U. S. Navy Seaman. They were married in 1944 in Oceanside, California; and after his overseas deployment with the U.S. Navy, she returned to Columbia. In March 1945, while 7 months pregnant, she learned of John's death on February 28, 1945 on Iwo Jima. At the end of the year, she traveled to Washington, DC to receive John Harlan Willis' Medal of Honor.

In July 1946, she married Kenneth B. Duke, managing editor for the Columbia Daily Herald, whom she met at the presentation of the Medal of Honor. Mrs. Duke attended Draughon's Junior Business College and upon graduating, she worked for the State of Tennessee until retirement, after which she sold insurance to the Tennessee National Guard under the name of Duke Insurance Agency. Mr. Duke preceded her in death in 1962.

In 1986, she married Arnold R. Willis, who preceded her in death in 1990. The last years of her life were dedicated to honoring John Harlan Willis and our military by supporting the seamen who served aboard the USS John Willis. She attended Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church and Belmont United Methodist Church.

Survivors include her sons, John Harlan Willis Duke, Sr. and James Harvey Duke, both of Florida; grandson, John Harlan Willis Duke, Jr.; granddaughters, Kathy Duke Laird, Kimberly Elizabeth Duke and Alyssa Anne Duke; and great-granddaughters, Morgan Nicole Laird and Kaitlyn Brooke Laird; nieces, Diane Bishop of Columbia, Macella Woods of Springfield, Gail Bishop of Columbia and Areta Childs of Hermitage.

She was preceded in death by one sister, Willie Christine Morel Bell; and two brothers, Hazel Ezel Morel and Herbert Herschel Morel.

The family wishes to express their appreciation to her niece, Areta Childs, who was her loving caregiver for many years.

Published in The Tennessean on Oct. 23, 2013
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