Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Businessman Gordon Willis Sr. Dies in Roanoke

Roanoke businessman Gordon Willis Sr., a who played a role in some of the most significant issues of his time, died in late December at 90 after a long illness. Professionally, he worked in his family’s business, Rockydale Quarries Corp., and he was an organizer of North Cross School and the Virginia Community College system, also serving as chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

He worked in the 1960s on Roanoke’s biracial committee, which helped ease the tensions that led other communities into explosive confrontations. He was honored with, among other things, Noel C. Taylor Humanitarian Award from Total Action Against Poverty and a Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 1992 by Gov. Douglas Wilder named him a Cultural Laureate of Virginia. Virginia Tech’s experimental Smart Road was named after Willis because of his advocacy. He served on the board of Roanoke Electric Steel Corp. (Steel Dynamics Roanoke Bar Division).

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