Jane Burr Rogers Willis, 82, of Valdosta, died at home near midnight on Friday, November 15, from complications of cancer.
She was born in Griffin, Ga., on May 24, 1931, to the late Lewis Alfred and Katherine Randall Rogers. She was the granddaughter of Ella Lee Milligan Randall. She graduated from Griffin High School and attended Shorter College as a speech major. She married James Edward Willis of Columbus, Ga., in 1952. The couple lived in Alexandria, Va., Brooklyn, N.Y., Atlanta, and Decatur, Ga., before moving to Valdosta with their first two children in 1960.
Once settled in Valdosta she became a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church, where she taught Sunday school and for nineteen years led the Sonshine Club program for seniors. She served for many years on the Flower Committee and sang as a member of the Joy Givers Choir. Artistically inclined, she joined the Holly Garden Club and became a specialist in abstract floral arrangement. Her designs won prizes in many local flower shows. Under the auspices of the Valdosta Garden Clubs in 1975 she organized and led the Johnny Jump-Ups, a junior garden club for girls. She served for several years as a Pink Lady at Pineview General Hospital, and was active in the PTA organizations of the Sallas-Mahone and S. L. Mason Schools, as well as the Mothers' Club of the Valwood School, during the years her children attended. In 2012 she was elected Chaplain of the Valdosta Elks Lodge Ladies Auxiliary. The Daughters of the American Revolution (General James Jackson Chapter) admitted her to membership on the basis of her descent from patriot Salmon Burr, Sr., of Connecticut.
Around 1970 Mrs. Willis conceived, wrote, and produced a radio show, "Laugh, Learn, and Live," for regular broadcast on Valdosta's WGAF, where she then worked. In 1970-71 she acted in two productions of the Valdosta Little Theatre. Appearing at Valdosta school carnivals and other community gatherings during the Halloween seasons of the early and mid-1970s, she delighted children with her incarnation of a frightful looking yet friendly witch with treats to share. From the 1950s up until a few weeks before her death she applied her flair for crafts to the creation of holiday ornaments, tablescapes, and decorations for various special occasions. On December 23, 1973, the Valdosta Times illustrated some of her handicrafts in a feature on local trends in Christmas tree trimming.
In 1998 she privately published Mooove Over Rachel – God Needs Your Stall, a Christmas story told from the viewpoint of a cow stabled in the birthplace of Jesus. The story gained its author sufficient local acclaim to justify re-issue in 2005 and in 2011 a revised edition with illustrations by Stacey L. Houle. Gateway Baptist Church, Valdosta, adapted it into a children's cantata presented during last year's Christmas season. Shortly before her death Mrs. Willis completed and prepared for publication a sequel, The Chosen One, imaginatively re-telling the Easter story through the eyes of the donkey that Jesus rode in triumph through Jerusalem. Apparently inspired by writings of Norman Vincent Peale and Max Lucado she produced those and other devotional writings in connection with the ministry to residents of Langdale Place that, beginning in the late 1990s, she and her husband conceptualized and conducted.
With members of her family and close friends she traveled throughout the United States and parts of Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. She also visited South America, Europe, the Holy Land, Egypt, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia. At home she enjoyed reading, knitting, cooking, gardening, and bird-watching. She nurtured a special enthusiasm for hummingbirds.
She had a reputation for humor and the gift of understatement. Her last words were: "I'm starting to feel a little bit under the weather."
Mrs. Willis is survived by her husband of sixty-one years, Ed Willis of Valdosta; a son, Al Willis, of Hermitage, Tenn.; two daughters, Kathi (Mrs. Royden) Hunnewell of Hahira and Carey Ann (Mrs. Russell) Kirkland of Hermitage; four grandchildren, Chase Hunnewell of Valdosta, Kati Hunnewell of Hahira, Sara Jane Kirkland of New York City, and Carey Beth Kirkland of Knoxville, Tenn.; and cousins including Gail (Mrs. Jack) Atwater of Asheboro, N.C., Dottie Johnson of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., and Jo Ann (Mrs. John) Sperry of Albany, Ga. She also leaves behind a sister-in-law, Linda Anne (Mrs. Charles) Aldridge of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Miss Hunnewell's fiancé, Chris Gaither, Jr. of Hahira. In addition to her parents, Mrs. Willis was preceded in death by a maternal aunt and uncle, Sara and Elton Tingle of Atlanta, and sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Carey and Jimmy Hammond of Minneapolis, Minn. and Valdosta.
The Funeral Service for Mrs. Willis will be held at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 19, 2013, at the Chapel of Carson McLane Funeral Home with Rev. Mac Weaver officiating. Interment will follow at McLane Riverview Memorial Gardens. The family will receive friends from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Monday at the funeral home. Condolences may be conveyed to the family at www.mclanecares.com. Carson McLane Funeral Home.
Carson McLane Funeral Home
2215 North Patterson Street