Never-give-up attitude helps Windsor councilman

Published 9:27 am Friday, October 24, 2014

by Merle Monahan/Contributing Writer

Greg Willis has no patience with anyone who says, “I can’t.”

He thinks this is a cop-out.

“They can at least try,” he said.

Willis knows first-hand what it means to keep trying. A diabetic since he was 15, the young father of two has survived two five-way open-heart surgeries and is today almost blind.

Yet he holds down an 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. office job five days per week, and is serving his second four-year term on the Windsor Town Council.

“I have never been one to give up,” Willis said with a smile, adding that he always believes tomorrow will be better.

In fact, he is on the list for a kidney/pancreas transplant, “which will be wonderful,” although he has no idea when this will happen.

Willis was born and grew up in New Bern, North Carolina. He attended the New Bern schools and completed his education at Craven Community College, also in New Bern.

“I worked in a few different jobs, but my interest has always been in the automotive field,” he said, “so I was really happy when I had a chance to manage a muffler shop in Portsmouth.”

Willis went on to work in various automotive shops in the area, including Suffolk and Windsor. During this time he also became interested in rescue squad work and when a member of the Windsor squad suggested that he move to Windsor and join, he thought it was a good idea.

“I really enjoyed working with the squad, and I’d probably still be there if my sight had not deteriorated so badly,” he said.

Willis underestimated his devotion to the Windsor Squad, however. He was involved in every aspect available from 1986 until 1992 and has held almost every position in the squad, including president, instructor in EMT, CPR and vehicle operation. He was taking classes to become a paramedic when his sight prevented his completing the course.

“I had to give it up, along with my other work,” he said. “That sort of put a damper on things for me.”

But Willis bounced back. In 1993, he was asked to man the phone for an employee of the Isle of Wight County Farm Bureau office who was on vacation.

“I enjoyed it so much, that when she came back, I still kept showing up at the office. I’d do anything they needed, from answering a phone to sweeping the floor.

“After about six months of this, they gave me a job,” he said with a grin. “That’s what I mean by not giving up. I’ve now been there for 21 years.”

Willis is a consultant for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as well as other insurances carried by the Windsor branch of Farm Bureau. He said he has his own computer to accommodate his vision problems and added that it can “do some cool tricks.”

His interest in town government came about when he had some issues with some of the town decisions, he said.

“I decided that in order for me to better understand the government, I needed to be in on the decision-making process,” Willis said. “One of my friends here suggested that I run for council.

“Well, I lost in 2000, but won in 2008 and was reelected in 2012. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how many times I’ve agreed with council on a decision that I may not have before.

“There are so many decisions to be made,” he added, “and it’s quite hard at times. But we take the information we have and do what we think is best.”

Although Willis’ wife does the driving when they go out, he is fiercely independent, his friends say.

“I drive him home after the council meetings,” one member said. “But he will not let me help him into the house.

“He insists on walking down the driveway to the door by himself.”

NAME: James Gregory Willis.

AGE: 53.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS AREA: I came here to join the Windsor Rescue Squad.

OCCUPATION: Health care consultant for Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

MARITAL STATUS: Christine and I have been married for 24 years.

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND AGES: Lindsay is 32 and married. Lydia is 18, and just starting Tidewater Community College.

FAVORITE NIGHT OUT ON THE TOWN: I think it’s when my family has its reunion and about 30 of us get together on Saturday night.

FAVORITE FOOD AND BEVERAGE: Fried shrimp and iced tea.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Any of the local restaurants.

WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU: I think it’s my desire for approval.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT YOU: I am happy with life.

PETS: We have a hound dog, named Oia, after a town in Greece.

WHAT IS YOUR WORST HABIT: Not taking care of my health.

FAVORITE HOBBY: I love restoring antique cars.

PET PEEVE: People who say “I can’t.”


IF YOU HAD 10 MINUTES ON NATIONAL TELEVISION, WHAT WOULD YOUR TOPIC BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY: My topic would be community involvement. There are so many ways people can contribute to their community to make it better. Get to know your neighbor, join a club or civic organization and participate in your church activities. When someone is in need, there is no better feeling than to know that someone is there to help.