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BIOGRAPHY
L. ROY WILLIS, SR.
1883 - 1959


This Biography is written with a collection of documents and for the most part using the words of L. Roy Willis. I have made small changes where necessary to make the statements flow together. In addition I have taken some of the material from a Tribute that appeared in the Easton Star Democrat with no byline. I have also added links to family pictures where appropriate. If you have any other information please E-mail me.


L. Roy Willis was born 8 September 1883 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within 1 city block of Independence Hall, to Francis Asbury Willis and Sarah Elmer Hubbard Willis of Caroline County, Maryland.

On 30 September 1883 he was brought to Easton, Maryland, to reside on Goldsborough Street opposite the Alex Fountain residence.

He wrote of these early years, " These years held forth many things never forgotten - The powders of Dr. Wes Stack to make the rooster lay eggs - The childhood friendship of Miss Lena Anderson - The presence of Rev. Mr. Tagg, next door, and his fine spirit of understanding - of rover, a big St. Bernard - of trips to the family store in the Hubbard Bldg. Dover Street."

In a memory book entry for the years 1889 - 91 he wrote, " 1889 stands out for two reasons. First, being taken to the clothing store of a Mr. Cochrane - where Easton National Bank now stands - and being outfitted by my Uncle Ned Hubbard in my first trousers instead of skirts - Second, I started to school - (and also started having headaches). In 1891 - fell in love with Florence Turner - her first year in school - carried her books for many years."

Between 1889 and 1898 he attended Public Grammar School and High School in Easton, Maryland. Then because of the constant headaches, he completed his studies at home being tutored by his father.

He then joined his brothers Frank Henry Willis and Edwin Rumbold Willis in Atlantic City, New Jersey where he entered the Hardcastle Business and Training School.

In December of 1903 upon completion of this schooling, he began the study of law under the personal tutorship of George A. Bourgeois, Esq. and Judge Clarence L. Cole, councellors-at-law of Atlantic City. Among his duties were aiding in the office, and looking after delinquent accounts referred to him by R. G. Dunn & Company, and other clients, for collection.

At the end of one year, by special permission, he was allowed by Police Recorder to represent clients in Police Court, and to appear for Mr. Bourgeois in the District Court.

At this time he also served as President of the Atlantic County Law Students Association

In 1905, he decided not to continue with law studies and withdrew to become a news reporter. Securing a position at the Atlantic City Daily Press. He was employed as a cub reporter, and began working under its publisher Walter E. Edge, in October of 1905. Within four months he was made the official sports writer, with articles appearing under his name.

Later he was made society editor, but did not relinquish writing and editing sports copy.

He went to Norfolk, Virginia in September, 1906, after accepting a telegraphic offer of employment as a reporter on The Norfolk Landmark, and being assured by the editor of the Philadelphia North American he could handle their copy during the Jamestown Exposition, which was to open in April, 1907.

During the period before the Exposition he was assigned mostly to routine reporting, but covered all Federal, State and Municipal Courts regularly.

Upon the opening of the Jamestown Exposition, he was assigned definitely to feature events only, and did no part of the regular routine reporting. This permitted him to furnish a large number of out-of-town papers with occasional articles, and provided a materially increased income for that time period.

It was during this time that he met and fell in love with Miss Effie Singleton Ransone, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Ransone, and the granddaughter of Captain and Mrs. J. W. Robbins. They were married 13 July 1907 in Norfolk, Virginia.

With the birth of his daughter Francis Virginia Willis 17 November 1908 in Norfolk, he resigned his position as the political analyst for the Landmark, and returned to Atlantic City.

When he returned to Atlantic City in 1908 he was placed in charge of the Atlantic City Bureau of the Philadelphia North American and in addition to furnishing the paper with daily articles, also supervised a society reporter and a staff photographer. At the same time he acted as a correspondent for several other out-of-town newspapers.

He became associated with Col. John L. Sprogle, Jr. in September of 1910, and under his instruction and guidance, was soon reporting outstanding events in a large part of the Southeastern portion of the United States.

Between 1910 and 1916, his newspaper work included comment and editorials during the successful campaign of Colonel Walter E. Edge for the Governorship of New Jersey and later, for the office of United States Senator.

Assignments that carried him from New Jersey to Florida and back into New York State were not unusual, and he had been looking forward to taking over the affiliations and alliances of Col. Sprogle when he was stricken ill in the summer of 1916.

His wife having recently died he returned to his home in Easton, Maryland about the first of August 1916 and was bed-ridden for several months.

He went to a State TB Sanatorium located in Sabillasville, Frederick County, Maryland during the winter of 1916/17.

Returning to Easton, Maryland he married Hilda Penfold Gardner 5 June 1917 in Centerville, Maryland. The happy couple made their home in Easton.

In the early summer of 1917, he was employed by the Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware Company as an automobile salesman. During which time he was put in charge of all automobile sales.

At about this time he became active in Town affairs, an interest that continued for the rest of his life. He devoted much time to the projects advanced by the Community Club, including the purchase and partial development of the Fair Grounds site into which has become Community Park.

A son, LeRoy Willis, Jr. was born to Roy and Hilda 26 May 1918 in Easton, Maryland.

In June of 1926 he was one of the organizers of the Gunby Company, which had been awarded exclusive rights for the sale of Dodge Bros. Cars and trucks for the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

He was named General Manager and was in absolute charge of the affairs of the company. The business grew gradually, until 1932, when the business had to be discontinued because of the general conditions of the economy.

In November of 1932 he and his family traveled to Florida, spending the winter there, and not returning to Easton until July of 1933.

He was elected to fill the unexpired term of George Walker as President of the Town Council and, later, at a regular election, was again elected to fill the same office.

During the long illness of Mayor William Herman Hopkins, as Council President he acted in his stead. It was due to his efforts that the Easton Fire House was constructed and dedicated.

On July 20, 1933 he was made Branch Manager of the Easton District Office of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. He secured suitable quarters, recommended personnel requirements and within 48 hours began personal contact with distresses home owners throughout the area of the nine counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland under the jurisdiction of his office. He was in complete charge of mortgage refinancing in the nine counties of the Eastern Shore, plus two counties in Delaware and two counties in Virginia.

When that office was closed in 1944, he again went to Florida for the winter season. Returning to Easton in June of 1945, when he became a Supervisor for the Farm Security Administration, Department of Agriculture. He resigned this position in December 1949 when he decided to run for Mayor of Easton.

He was first elected Mayor in 1950, defeating Herbert E. Jump. During his administration, Easton's town boundaries were extended and extensive improvements in water, sewerage, and electric services were undertaken, as well as a street paving program and reorganization and expansion of the Easton Town Police Force.

In 1954 he was defeated in a hard fought battle for the office of Mayor, and became associated with the real estate and insurance firm of Anthony and Lathum.

In 1958 he was again elected Mayor and had initiated a number of improvements and development projects including the acquisition of land on the north side of Easton for the new Easton Fire House.

He was a strong advocate of small industry, and of greater year round employment opportunities for the people of Easton and Talbot County. He played an important role in bringing new plants to the area during his first administration. And during his second term he was instrumental in the arrangements, which brought the U. S. Shellfish laboratory to Talbot County.

During a family vacation to New England to view the fall foliage he became ill, and never recovered. Passing away 20 June 1959. Interment was in the family plot located in Spring Hill Cemetery, Easton, Maryland.

During his long career he held many civic and fraternal offices. Among these:
President, Atlantic County Law Students' Association
President, Atlantic City Press Club
President, Jamestown Press Club
Chairman, Talbot County Democratic State Central Committee
President, Easton Fire Department, of which he was a life member
Exalted Ruler for three terms of Easton B. P. O. Elks Lodge No. 1622, of which he was a charter member
District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler, Grand Lodge, B. P. O. Elks
President, Maryland, Delaware and District of Columbia Elks Association
Member, Board of Governors, Elks Boys' Camp



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Copyright Nov. 2000 by Sandra L. Willis