Wyoming losses a pillar in the community in Dave Willis
“Dave was a pillar in Wyoming,” said friend Steve McGrail about Dave Willis, who was remembered at a Celebration of Life at the Wyoming Lions Club on Saturday. Willis was a passionate sportsman who contributed greatly to the community, and his life touched a lot of people, said McGrail.
Willis passed away on Feb. 28 at the age of 77. Born in Sarnia, he was involved in coaching, managing and serving as a trainer for 40 years in baseball, hockey and football. He was inducted into the Sarnia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.
McGrail first met Willis in the late 1980s when he first coached him in Wyoming. McGrail said the coaches are often parents who have their child on their team, but Willis was one of those rare coaches, who did not have a child on the team, said McGrail.
Willis often coached at the Peewee level , but he would coach at other levels as he was needed. “Often, it was just him at the diamond,” said McGrail, as he would put his team through their paces during a practice.
He was often a friendly face on the street while walking his dog piper, who would stop to talk baseball and share a story. Willis always wanted to know how the kids he had coached over the years were doing in their lives and he was always quick to chat about his favourite professional teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Tigers and Hamilton Tiger Cats. In his later years, he was often at the ball diamond, as he lived in an apartment near Centennial Park in Wyoming.
He began his involvement in coaching in Sarnia in the 1960s, when he was asked to coach a Peewee house league baseball team by a young boy on the team. This led him to coaching six years in Sarnia before he moved to Wyoming.
Willis coached hockey in Petrolia in the 1970s and was also a trainer for the Petrolia Jets. He also scouted for the hockey teams with the Western Michigan University Broncos and Bowling Green University in the 1970s and early 1980s, where he help secure scholarships for local athletes.
Besides Athletics, Willis served as a Big Brother and was a military veteran serving in the Canadian Navy from 1963 to 1966. His most memorable moment in the navy was when he served on the HMCS Kootenay when they chased a Soviet submarine across the Atlantic Ocean at the height of the Cold War.
The Wyoming Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion gave him a scooter in January. He said at the time, this would help him regain some of his independence, as he was unable to walk his dog as much as he wanted to. He usually was out three times a day walking his dog.
He leaves to mourn his son, Jon O’Connor, twin grandchildren, Quinn and Morgan O’Connor and his sister, Carole Willis-Jackson.
Blake Ellis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent