Ralph Willis was born in Xenia, Ohio, and lived as a boy first in Bellbrook, Ohio, and then in Martinsburg, W.V. He grew up with his mother, Ruth Hamilton Willis, and older brother, Paul Frederick Willis, in a large extended family — a household of 12 including his cousins. It was the home of his Uncle Paul Hamilton and his Aunt Ossie. Though it was in the Depression years, and they struggled to make ends meet, his childhood was a happy one growing up in a small town. There were plenty of adventures available for he and his brother and cousins. Ralph attended Martinsburg High School, where he was an excellent student — especially in math and science. He went to work while still in high school in Roberts Jewelry Store after school. He was an avid Boy Scout and some of his favorite memories were of scout camp and the friendships he made there. He went on to become an Eagle Scout and attained the Order of the Arrow and Two Palms.
Ralph graduated in 1944 and joined the Navy. Like so many of his generation, he went off to war, served on the USS Monterey in the Pacific. At the end of the war, he sailed as a young sailor into Tokyo Harbor the day after the peace treaty was signed. After the war, he was posted at the Naval Air Technical Training School as an instructor when he met Violet Clark Cromwell, an artist and instructor at the Memphis Academy of Art. They fell deeply in love and were married in 1947.
Once back in Martinsburg, he worked at the jewelry store until he went to aircraft school. He applied for a job as a mechanic at Delta Airlines, moving first to Memphis and then to Atlanta in 1954 when Delta established its base there. He was one of the "pioneers" of airline aviation along with hundreds of others like him. Ralph worked for Delta for 32 years. He retired as an inspector in quality control.
Ralph and Violet lived in their house on Cypress Drive in Forest Park, Ga., for 50 years. Ralph served in many positions of lay leadership at Jones Memorial Methodist Church. He also served his community, first as a member, and then chair of the Architectural Design Review Board for the city of Forest Park. Ralph and Violet's house on the corner, was the place for parties and celebrations for their many groups of friends. They also had a yearly neighborhood Christmas party to which everyone was invited, everyone was welcome. Ralph and Violet moved to Nashville, Tenn., to be near their daughter in 2005 for health issues. Violet died in 2010. They had been married 63 years. Ralph's generosity, sharp mind, engaging spirit and wonderful sense of humor continued to endear him to everyone. He was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church. He died at Adams Place in Murfreesboro, Tenn., May 4, 2013. Ralph is survived by his son, Rev. Paul Willis, married to Kimberly White Willis; his daughter, Rebecca Waldrop, married to Rev. J. Michael Waldrop; his only grandson, Jonathan Waldrop, married to Shelley Briggs Waldrop; and three great-grandchildren: Nora, Bonnie and Paul.
Services will be held at a later date. Please leave condolences online at www.jenningsandayers.com. Jennings & Ayers Funeral Home, 820 South Church St., Murfreesboro, Tenn., 37130. 615-893-2422