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Former mayor Frank Willis fondly remembered

on Tuesday, 14 June 2022. Posted in Local News


Frank Willis served as Mayor of Florence for 12 years. Francis “Frank” Eugene Willis, who served the City of Florence in numerous capacities in recent decades, including three terms as mayor from 1995 to 2008, died Friday. He was 80. In a released statement, city officials said Willis will be remembered as a “consummate gentleman, a selfless public servant, and a steadfast friend,” “As a city, we have all benefited from Mayor Willis’ service,” said current Florence mayor Teresa Myers Ervin. “His wisdom and knowledge will be greatly missed by all those who knew him. On behalf of the Council, city staff, and citizens [of] Florence, we thank him for his vision and service he provided to the City of Florence.” “There’s that old adage, you want to leave a place better than it was when you found it. Frank certainly met that mark with flying colors,” said George Jebaily, who worked closely with Willis during his tenure as mayor “The City of Florence is saddened to hear of the passing of former Mayor Frank Willis,” stated Florence City Manager Randy Osterman in a released statement. “Mayor Willis was instrumental in laying the groundwork to spur economic growth by pushing the city to become a regional provider of water and sewer and prepare for downtown development. His foresight positioned the city well to make the great strides and improvements that we’ve seen over the past 14 years. On behalf of the Mayor, Council, and city staff, we share our condolences with Mrs. Marguerite Willis and their family during this time.” Francis Marion University President Fred Carter issued a statement about Willis’ death. “I had the pleasure of working closely with Frank while he was mayor and truly enjoyed our time together then and afterward — including a number of successful economic development trips that he led abroad,” stated Carter. “Frank’s work established the groundwork for much of the economic and social progress Florence and Pee Dee have enjoyed over the last two decades. He will be missed, but his impact will continue to be felt for a great many years to come.” Willis was born in Bennettsville on October 19, 1941, the son of Horace Eugene and Mary Frances Willis. He was raised in Darlington, where he learned the importance of community and helping others. He graduated from The University of South Carolina in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. In 2008, he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Francis Marion University. Willis joined his father’s construction business, Willis Construction, building foundations for roads, particularly in the Pee Dee area. In time, he became involved in economic development, through Florence County Progress and the Florence County Economic Development Authority. Due to his leadership, Florence County was able to convince Honda to construct its manufacturing facility in Timmonsville. During his tenure as mayor, Willis was known as a consensus and coalition builder, a practical problem solver, and a true visionary committed to the process of economic and community development. He laid much of the groundwork for the growth and stability that Florence and the surrounding areas currently enjoy. Willis’ father was involved in building Darlington Raceway. Because of his father, Mayor Willis had a lifelong love of the Raceway and the sport, as well as an appreciation of their economic impact to the Pee Dee. Mayor Willis also respected the sacrifices of veterans and their families. To that end, he spearheaded the effort to build the Florence Veterans Park to honor Florence military veterans. He considered his service to Florence as his crowning achievement and enjoyed mentoring and creating opportunities for those who would continue building and sustaining the community. In addition to his wife Marguerite, he is survived by his brother Johnny (Phil); sister Martha Ray; nephew Thomas Ray; sister-in-law Lee Elmore; and nieces Marguerite and Sara Lawton Elmore, and Laurin Groover; and honorary family members Watson (Wattie) Snowden and Linnette Martin. Mayor Willis was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Mary Neal Willis Groover; and his brother-in-law Frank Elmore. Funeral services were held at Highland Park United Methodist on June 14. Donations can be made in Mayor Willis’ memory to the Francis Marion University Education Foundation, in honor of his long service, or to the Jayne Boswell Animal Shelter in recognition of his lifelong love of all creatures, especially Labrador retrievers.

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