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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Professor was active in Democratic campaigns


George L. Willis, 86, who as a University of Toledo political science professor helped build the school's public administration program, died of cancer Saturday in his Naples, Fla., home.

Formerly of West Toledo, Mr. Willis and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Naples in 1990.

He arrived at UT in 1969 and retired in 1983. He taught one term a year until about 1991.

"George had that southern gentlemanly flow about him," said Winfield Scott Bollinger, a retired political science department colleague and a longtime friend. "He was very knowledgeable about politics."

He worked to develop the graduate public administration program and directed the graduate internship program in urban government.

A Democrat, he was an organizer in Lucas County for Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential bid. Earlier, while teaching at the University of Cincinnati, he courted that city's traditionally Republican black leadership for the Democratic Party. Mr. Willis was a Cincinnati leader in the 1960 John Kennedy presidential campaign.

That real-world experience made a big difference to his students, Mr. Bollinger said, "but he was an academician, make no mistake about it."

He was both gregarious and a fairly traditional instructor, his daughter, Georgia, said, "really knowledgeable without being pompous and condescending."

Born Sept. 17, 1923, in Ashland, Ky., he attended Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., and in 1943 enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was a flight instructor stateside and in 1944 was sent to Europe, where as a bomber pilot he flew missions over Germany. In 2008, he received the French Legion of Honor.

He received a bachelor's degree and doctorate from Indiana University and a master's degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Surviving are his wife, Carolyn, whom he married June 29, 1951; son, Kelley; daughter, Georgia Willis; brother, John, and two granddaughters.

A memorial and reception will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Fuller Funeral Home, Naples. The family suggests tributes to the UT Foundation or the Indiana University Foundation.

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