The Reverend Chris Willis (77-92S)
Chris was a big man in many senses beyond the physical. He had a natural authority, he had confidence and gave confidence to others and he was generous in giving time, help and hospitality. When he smiled one could sense the inner warmth.
Chris came to West Buckland as Chaplain after a varied career for which he was educated as a boarder at Malvern College. He was by his own admission not an academic, but he was a team player and he took from his education strong lessons in the importance of integrity and trust.
From serving as an officer in the Merchant Navy Chris was called to ministry, his faith rooted in experience and used in the practical minstry of caring for people. He then left parish life and came to Devon to work for the Hotel and Catering Industry Training Board, again with an emphasis on people, as he encouraged or pushed employers to be good employers and train well.
Chris was ideally suited to school chaplaincy. He was a father figure, able to talk easily to anyone from any background, never unwilling to speak his mind, forcefully if necessary, and always ready to give his time. Classes he taught found him strict but also warmly encouraging, and he was supportive of those who needed help. In all he did he was powerfully supported by Sylvia, to whom he was devoted, their time together cut short by her death in the early years of his retirement.
Confidentiality was the heart of all he did and the basis of the trust that he enjoyed. He listened patiently (for many years he was a Samaritan) and by quiet questioning and hinting he encouraged the individual to find a way forward. I certainly found him most helpful: he would represent views that I needed to be aware of, he would warn of a problem and often come with ideas of a solution, prefacing it with, “If you would allow me…..” He was an excellent sounding board if I wished to test an idea.
He took over careers advice and from a small start he developed a service to pupils that was much better than most, with large-scale evening gatherings with the Memorial Hall full with many stands.
Chris retired from West Buckland 25 years ago. In his appreciation in The Register, Chris Ponder wrote, “I don’t think that Chris will ever stop helping people.” The prophecy was fulfilled. He continued to do much for the community – often asked to take weddings, baptisms and funerals; helping churches in the area when there was no regular vicar; acting as Chaplain to the Burma Star Association in North Devon and much more. He was indeed a busy man. For the Calvert Trust, after working as a volunteer he took on the key role of Administrator soon after his retirement, and he took the lead in creating Shop Mobility, now enlarged to be Go North Devon.
He had a large circle of friends, for whom he was often a source of much wise counsel. His was a life that was very well filled and very well liked.