A. M. Willis, Jr.

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Achille Murat Willis, Jr. (a.k.a. "Monk"; Murat is pronounced mu–RA, rhymes with "hurrah;" 9 October 1916 Richmond, Virginia — 14 January 2011 Longview, Texas) was an American insurance executive, civic leader, political adviser, Congressional staffer, and public university regent. From age 30 on, he lived in Longview, Texas. From 1965 to 1983, Willis was one of nine regents for the University of North Texas. Three consecutive six-year appointments by three Texas governors added-up to eighteen years of public service. During that time, the UNT Board of Regents elected Willis chairman for ten consecutive annual terms, from 1969 to 1979.

Willis was the son of A. Murat Willis, Sr., a nationally-known surgeon, prolific professor of surgery at the Medical College of Virginia and founder of several hospitals.


Campaign staff, presidential race

Although Willis was a lifelong Democrat, his conviction ran along philosophical lines that, at least once in his life, overrode party lines. Willis had worked for the 1940 Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie when he ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt; and in doing so, wrote some of his speeches.[1]

Adviser to Lyndon Johnson

When Willis moved to Texas in 1948, newly married, he worked for Lyndon B. Johnson's senate campaign.[2] Having served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1956, 1960, and 1968, he became a friend and adviser to President Johnson.[3][4]

U.S. Congressional staffer

In 1972, three years before the end of the Vietnam War, Willis joined the staff of U.S. Congressman Ray Roberts. In 1976, a year after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, Roberts appointed Willis as Chief of Staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, of which Roberts was chairman.[5] Willis held that position until 1983. Willis' oldest daughter, Catherine, had been a member of Roberts' staff in 1971.[2][6]

University of North Texas regent

In 1965, Governor John Connally appointed Willis to the nine-member Board of Regents of the University of North Texas.[7] He was reappointed in 1972 by Governor Preston Smith and again in 1979 by Governor Dolph Briscoe. In 1969, the Board elected him to a one-year term as chairman, making him the second chairman in the board's Template:Cardinal to word-year history. As chairman, he replaced Dallas banking executive Benjamin Harrison Wooten (1894–1971), who had held the position since the board was created in May 1949. The board reelected Willis annually as chairman for nine more years, until 1979. Willis remained on the board until 1983.

Willis was regarded as a highly active regent, which drew praise and criticism. He also presided during an era of student activism in civil rights, anti-Vietnam War protests, free speech, and academic policies.

University of North Texas Health Science Center

In 1979, while chairman, Willis led a successful defense on behalf of the board against a bill introduced in the Texas Legislature by Gib Lewis to transfer UNT's Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM, now known as the University of North Texas Health Science Center) to the University of Texas System.[8] At the time, critics — who where impatient over the progress during the start-up of TCOM — harbored a view that North Texas had little experience running a medical school and that managing by a university system steeped with experience, such as the University of Texas System, would benefit TCOM. Willis attributed concerns about management to start-up and growing pains and argued that folding TCOM into the UT System would pit the state's new venture into osteopathic medicine against the state's highly established, powerful medical education and research establishment. TCOM soon emerged as a stand-alone public institution, the University of North Texas Health Science Center, providing health care, medical and bio-medical research, and professional medical physician education.

A.M. Willis, Jr., Library

On August 24, 1978, the other regents resolved to name the new library the "A.M. Willis, Jr., Library" for his "loyal and devoted service." Willis invested great personal effort into the planning and construction of the library. Aside from being a rapid reader with a large personal library, Willis felt that erecting a large, centrally located, beautiful facility for current and future collections was a high priority. He viewed it as a fundamental building-block, particularly at post-baccalaureate and research levels. North Texas, at the time, was already well known for some of its collections, particularly music.

The building — originally designed as three buildings to be erected in three phases — was designed by Caudill Rowlett Scott and opened the summer of 1971. It was formally dedicated April 25, 1972. The building is the third of four university buildings named after a regent. The first, a classroom building, was Wooten Hall. The second, a dormitory, was Kerr Hall. The fourth was the Murchison Performing Arts Center.

In the words of then North Texas President C.C. Nolen, "He [Willis] is the complete board chairman." The naming was not without controversy. The Faculty Senate, by resolution on October 11, 1978, opposed the name on grounds that it violated an erstwhile board policy of not naming anything on campus after living people, regents in particular. President Nolen, a non-academic who had been a fund raiser for Texas Christian University, insisted on relaxing the policy with an eye towards soliciting large capital gifts that would lead to naming facilities after donors.[9]

Early career

After studying a year at Harvard Business School during the fall and spring of 1938 and 1939, Willis left and accepted a position at Johns-Manville in New York City, where he helped run the company's exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair. He then worked on Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign, later explaining that he wasn't a Republican, but was against Franklin D. Roosevelt's court-packing scheme. Willkie lost and Willis joined the U.S. Navy in 1942, serving until 1946 in the Pacific during World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In 1946, he moved back to New York City, where he met and in 1948 married Frances Maxine Hundahl (1918–1995) of Tulsa. They moved to Longview, Texas, where, from the late 1940s until 1976, Willis was a district manager for Mutual of Omaha under his father-in-law, David Jasper Hundahl (1895–1968).[2]


Willis earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and economics from Washington & Lee University in 1938[10] and studied at the Harvard Business School during the 1938–1939 school-year. He received his primary and secondary education at St. Christopher's School in Richmond, Virginia, graduating in 1934. Willis was a lover of books and rapid reader who typically read three books a week. He had an extensive personal library and was a reciter of poetry.

Civic involvement

  • Co-recipient of the first Unity Awards presented in 2005 by the Unity and Diversity Committee (formerly known as the Race Relations Committee), founded in 1995 by the Partners in Prevention sponsored by the City of Longview
  • Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nicholson Memorial Library, Longview, Texas
  • President of the Longview Mental Health Association
  • President of the Longview Civic Music Association (1960)
  • Chairman of the of Longview Planning & Zoning Commission
  • President of the Longview Museum and Arts Center
  • Chairman of the Gregg County, Texas Red Cross
  • Director of the Gregg County, Texas United Fund
  • Vice-President of the Longview YMCA (1953)
  • Director of the Texas State Commission on Mental Health
  • Director of the Texas Commission for Better Schools
  • In 1972, Willis was elected chairman of the Committee of Governing Boards of Texas State Colleges and Universities; he replaced Frank Craig Erwin, Jr. (1920–1980),[11] regent for the University of Texas System from 1963 to 1975, and chairman from 1966 to 1971. Both Willis and Erwin had received their appointments to become regents by their friend, John Connally, and both were friends with Lyndon B. Johnson.

Professional & social affiliations


Willis was married twice. His first was to Courtnay Marshall Jones (1916–1984) on April 1, 1940. They divorced the 1940s and in 1947 Courtnay remarried Zalpheus Reed Dillingham (1910–1977). Willis' second was to Frances Maxine Hundahl (1918–1995) on June 3, 1948. He and Frances remained married until her death. Together, they had three daughters:

  1. Catherine Hucheson Willis
  2. Elizabeth Gold Willis (married to Rick Kackley)
  3. Mary Murat Willis (married to John Lewis Tabor)

Willis was survived by a sister, née Elizabeth Hutcheson Willis (born 1922), widow of Dumond Peck Hill.

Willis' father, Achille Murat Willis, MD (1878–1929), was a nationally-known surgeon and, from 1922 until his death, professor of surgery at Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He had co-founded the Rocky Mount Hospital in North Carolina, the George Ben Johnston Hospital in Abingdon, Virginia, the Community Hospital in Nassawadox, and the Johnson-Willis Hospital in Richmond.[12][13] In 1929, when A.M. Willis, Jr., was Template:Cardinal to word years old, his father committed suicide in his office at the Johnston-Willis Hospital after successfully completing surgery. There was a consensus by colleagues that he had been despondent over strong disagreements on curricular matters with the Medical College and possible clinical depression.[14] The tragic loss bothered Monk Willis for rest of his life.

Famous family linage[15][16][17][18]

Willis was a descendent of Betty Washington, George Washington's sister and wife of Fielding Lewis, via the following lineage:

Father: Achille Murat Willis, MD (1878–1929)
Grandfather: Byrd Charles Willis (1847–1911)
Great-grandfather: George Willis (1809–1861)
Great-great grandmother: Mary Willis Lewis (1782–1834)
Great-great-great grandfather: George Washington Lewis (1757–1821)
Great-great-great-great grandmother: Betty Washington Lewis (1733–1797)

Monk's first and middle names, "Achille Murat," were those of Prince Achille Murat, eldest son of the King of Naples Joachim Murat and Caroline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Prince Murat was married to Catherine Daingerfield Willis (1803–1867),[19] the sister of Monk's great-grandfather, George Willis (1809–1861) and great granddaughter of Betty Washington and great grandniece of George Washington.

See also


  1. Willis, Longview Civic Leader, Veteran, Adviser to LBJ, dies at 94 , Longview News-Journal, January 16, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Chairman Willis, Friendly Agent, The North Texan, Volume 23, Number 1, November 1971
  3. Oral History Transcript of George Reedy Interview XVI, LBJ Library Oral History Collection (1984)
  4. 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, by David Pietrusza, Union Square Press, pg. 267 (2008) Template:OCLC ISBN 9781402761140 ISBN 1402761147
  5. Teacher Wants to Replace 'Fixture' , Dallas Morning News, July 23, 1977, Sec A, pg. 9
  6. Unelected Representatives: Congressional Staff and the Future of Representative Government, Michael J. Malbin, Basic Books (1980) Template:OCLC ISBN 046508866X ISBN 9780465088669
  7. Connally Names 3 as NTSU Regents, Dallas Morning News, Sec. D, pg. 8, November 7, 1965.
  8. The Campus: Austin-tatious, The North Texan, Vol 29, No. 2, February 1979, pg. 7
  9. James Lloyd Rogers (1926–2006), The Story of North Texas, University of North Texas Press (c2002) Template:OCLC
  10. The Willises Will Attend Exercises, Richmond Time-Dispatch, June 8, 1938, pg. col. 7
  11. Around the Campus: Notes on People, The North Texan, Volume 23, Number 3, June 1972, pg. 8
  12. In memory of Achille Murat Willis, Frank Stoddert Johns (1884–1971), Charles Cheves Haskell (1880–1947), Juliet Evelyn Fay Sitwell (1888–1975), The Johnston-Willis Hospital bulletin, Richmond, Virginia, vol. 2, No. 5. February, 1929 Template:OCLC
  13. Dr. A. M. Willis, Southern Medicine and Surgery, January 1929, Volume 91, No. 1: pps 41–42, by James M. Northington, MD, and pps 200–201 by C.C. Coleman, MD Template:OCLC
  14. Alma Mater Will Honor Murat Willis, Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 5, 1929, pg. 1
  15. A sketch of the Willis family of Virginia, by Byrd Charles Willis & Richard Henry Willis, PhD, Whittet & Shepperson (publisher) (1898) Template:OCLC
  16. The Willis family of Virginia, James Baylor Blackford (1907–1972), Philip Lightfoot Scruggs (1898–1977), Frank Robertson Blackford (1911–1978), manuscript (1969) Template:OCLC
  17. The Willis family of Virginia and Some of Their Descendants, Adelaide Rutherford Willis, Paper Work, Mobile, Alabama (publisher) (19678) Template:OCLC
  18. Lewis of Warner Hall: The History of a Family, by Merrow Egerton Sorley (1903–1969), (1935, 1937, 1964, 1979, 1991, 2000) Template:OCLC ISBN 0806308311
  19. George Willis Tate, Twice a Princes, Xlibris Corporation (2011) Template:OCLC ISBN 9781456821869 ISBN 1456821865 ISBN 9781456821852 ISBN 1456821857