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Willis has experienced plenty in 100 years

Pictured here are four generation of the Willis family women. From left are Savannah Willis, Shelia Willis, Ruth Willis and Mandy Lawson.


SWT Intern

Ruth Atkinson Willis, a Shawsville native, was born Dec. 8, 1917 – over 100 years ago.

Mrs. Willis is the middle of six siblings born to Goldie and Robert Atkinson. Robert was a railroad worker before he transferred to the Radford Arsenal during WW2, meanwhile Goldie worked in the cafeteria of Shawsville High school.

Her siblings, in order of age from oldest to youngest, include Frida Atkinson, Cline Atkinson, Maurice Atkinson, Ruth Willis, Lois Henson and Bill Atkinson.

“I may not have been the baby, but they all called me baby,” she said. “My daddy favored me like the baby, too.”

Coming from a house full of people, I asked her what they did for fun.

“The first thing I remember was playing outside with our imaginations,” she said. “I think more young people should try it sometime.”

Mrs. Willis graduated from Shawsville High School around 1934, the same year she married her husband, Hubert Willis.

When the topic came up about her husband, a smile never left her face.

“I can’t always remember a whole lot, but some of my favorite memories include my husband of 46 years,” she said.

She met her husband just by mere passing.

“He would be driving home past my house,” says Willis, “I would wait out there just as pretty as I could and wave at him as he drove by.”

She says that as soon as they met they were inseparable.

Mr. Willis bought and sold cattle from Christiansburg for as long as she could remember. “We never suffered for nothin’. He worked real hard and he treated me just right,” says Willis.

When I asked her what she would tell people wanting to get married these days, she said, “You have to believe in one another and live by what one another loves and likes,” says Willis. “You have to really love one another.”

She still talks about her “Hubert Lee.” After his passing in 1982, she never remarried or had any other relationships. “I never could’ve married anyone else, I couldn’t love anybody else like I loved Hubert Lee.”

Two years after their marriage in 1934, they had their first child, JoAnne.

“That’s a sore subject for me. I never thought I would be the woman whose child passed away,” says Willis. JoAnne died at the age of 12 of polio.

Five years after the passing of JoAnne, Willis had her second child, Robert “Steve” Willis. The relationship between the two remains something special. When asked about her son, the first thing she said is, “I’m just so proud of him. He’s pastoring that church and I just love to hear him preach. I think ‘that’s my son’ every time I hear him.”

Willis says that her biggest accomplishment was learning how to drive a car. She told me that she taught herself one day when her husband was leaving for out of town.

“I didn’t know how to shift that dang thing, but I learned all by myself,” she says with a chuckle.

Being the age that she is, she experienced some of the things that children now are just beginning to learn about. One thing she remembers very well was the draft for WW2.

“My brother Maurice got drafted first. I was so upset, and then my youngest brother, Bill, got drafted. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, it was terrible,” she said. “It just wasn’t the same without them. My husband was supposed to go, but luckily he didn’t have to.”

She’s not into the news much these days, but she says that if WW3 happens while she’s alive, she’d rather not know.

Ruth Willis is the mother of two, grandmother of one, and the great grandmother of two. She says that being a grandma and great grandma is one of the best things she’s ever done.

I am lucky enough to call Mrs. Willis my great grandmother.



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