Bobby Willis, 79, former Atlanta
minor league baseball player
Bobby Willis loved baseball.
He also loved Virginia Davis, and his love for each collided on July 2, 1955.
The Atlanta Crackers needed an infielder and Mr. Willis got the call to move up to the Double-A team from the Class A Greenville Spinners in South Carolina. He was excited and ready to go, except the next day was supposed to be his wedding day. And wouldn't you know it, there was a game scheduled at the same time as the ceremony. So that Mr. Willis wouldn’t miss his chance playing infield for the Crackers, or his wedding, he and his bride-to-be threw their guests a curve ball and changed their wedding date.
“We’d already sent out invitations that said July 3,” said Virginia Willis, his wife of 56 years. “But we moved it to Saturday, so he went straight from the wedding reception to the Ponce de Leon ballpark.”
Mr. Willis’ baseball career spanned eight minor league seasons, beginning in 1951 and ending in 1960. He played for a number of teams, and the U.S.Army, during that time, his wife said.
Even illness couldn’t keep Mr. Willis from his beloved sport, Mrs. Willis said. As his health deteriorated over the past few months, he made sure to watch the 2011 World Series.
“He fussed at the TV and said both teams made too many errors,” she said. “It frustrated him because ballplayers one-handed the ball, and he’d say that the good Lord gave them two hands and that they should use them.”
Robert Newton Willis, Jr., of Taylorsville, called Bobby by all who knew him, died at his daughter's home Nov. 5 from complications of esophageal cancer. He was 79. A memorial service has been planned for 11 a.m. Friday at Raccoon Creek Baptist Church in Stilesboro. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. Owen Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Mr. Willis was born in Fulton County and attended Bass High School, where he played basketball and baseball. Mr. Willis was part of the 1950 championship baseball team at Bass High, said Joe Willingham, a friend since the 40s, who was on the baseball team of a rival high school.
“I think he was born with a baseball in his hand,” Mr. Willingham said. “His dad really wanted him to play, and worked with him when we were younger, and Bobby just stuck with it.”
After Mr. Willis retired from playing baseball, sports still ran in his blood, his wife said. He worked for Spalding Sporting Goods in their promotions department, and later he opened Bobby Willis Sporting Goods in Atlanta on Memorial Drive. He was also part owner of a golf driving range in Marietta.
“I think he had batting cages put at the driving range,” Mr. Willingham said. “Bobby never went too far from baseball.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Willis is survived by his daughters, Paula Doyle of Taylorsville and Renee Willis of Pensacola, Fla.; one granddaughter and a sister, Tommie Omerzu of Pierson, Fla.