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From Home Furnishing Business

Virginia Retailer Benjamin Willis Jr. Dies at 97

Willis Furniture LogoBenjamin J. Willis Jr., former president of family-owned Willis Furniture in Virginia Beach, Va., died July 9 at his home in Norfolk, Va. He was 97.

Willis became president of the retailer in 1965 upon the death of his father, and remained in that post until his retirement in 1998. His son, Ben Willis III, currently is president.

He was a leader in numerous furniture industry organizations, including a stint as chairman of the Southern Home Furnishings Association. He also served 11 years on the board of the National Home Furnishings Association.

He was a lifelong resident of Norfolk and while he was a private, humble and gentle person, he believed in duty, honor and responsibility which guided his life. He was an Eagle Scout and supported Scouting as an adult. He graduated from Maury High School in 1938 and from Hampden Sydney College in 1942. During the summer in Virginia Beach, he was a lifeguard in front of the Warner Hotel and cultivated a fondness of swimming.

A Navy veteran, he was a salvage diver on the USS Moreno during World War II. He was later called back into service and took command of LST 1154, the USS Tallahatchie County during the Korean War. He remained in the Naval Reserves until his retirement as a Commander.

He was a member of Ghent United Methodist Church and the Lambeth Bible Class. He was one of the first and longest serving members of the Board of Trustees of Virginia Wesleyan College, and also was president of the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Children’s Home in Richmond, Va.

He was a member of the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, the Princess Anne Country Club, the Norfolk Rotary Club, and the Norfolk German Club. In addition, he served as chairman of the board of directors of the Better Business Bureau, and the Retail Merchants Association of Tidewater (The Retail Alliance), and served as a board member of the former Crestar Bank.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Blair Robertson Willis; daughter Martha Blair FitzGerald and husband Chip; son Jeff R. Willis and wife Lauren; son Ben Willis III and wife Jenny; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday at Ghent United Methodist Church, 531 Raleigh Ave, Norfolk, Va. A reception will follow at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club.

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