“My memory of names is fading, but colorful flash images of endless scenes which punctuated our lives keep me happy.”
Edward Lloyd Willimon, who died at 95 years of age on May 22, 2015, penned this entry on the last page of his autobiography. Born on June 8, 1919, in Florence, South Carolina, Ed was a Renaissance man minus the high sheen; a soldier, an architect, an artist, a teacher, a civil rights activist, and a dyed-in-the-wool “yellow dog” Democrat. He was a lifelong learner, a student of the world.
But more than anything, Ed was a father, a husband, a provider, and a man devoted to the concept of family. One of his granddaughters, Leah, wrote of him: “I will never forget the camping trips, fossil hunts, watercolor lessons, nature walks… He was never afraid to get his hands dirty and or get paint all over himself. For that matter, he was never afraid of anything.”
Serving in the United States Army during World War II and earning the rank of captain was one of Ed’s proudest accomplishments. As a decorated member of the 158th Regimental Combat Team, or the renowned “Bushmasters”, he fought and slogged his way across the island of New Guinea, helped liberate the northern Philippines on Luzon, and was one of the first G.I.s to set his boots on Japan as part of the occupational forces. Of the famed 158th, General Douglas MacArthur observed, “no greater fighting combat team has ever deployed for battle.”
After the war, Ed eventually settled in Dallas with his war-bride, Janette Sims, of Canton. Armed with his pre-war B.S. in Architecture from Clemson University and a post-war M.S. in Architecture from Columbia University, Ed began a 45-year career as an architect. He helped design and construct a multitude of commercial buildings, churches and synagogues, and industrial structures across north Texas; he was particularly proud of Texas Color Printers, National Chemsearch, and Ablon Poultry & Egg Co. He also drew the blueprints and literally laid the brick for his and Janette’s family home in Duncanville where they lived for 33 years. Another granddaughter, Katie, reminisced, “living in Southern California, I always felt safe and secure from earthquakes because I knew that he designed and built the home I grew up in. And when my brother and I wanted to build a play fort in our backyard, what started out as our simple idea turned into an awesome structure for star-gazing! He assured me that it, too, was earthquake-proof!”
One of the reasons that fort was structurally sound was that Ed, having a lifelong passion for science, also earned a M.S. in Geology at SMU. A geology adjunct professor at Bishop College for 19 years, as well as the University of Texas at Arlington and other area colleges, he is remembered for the extensive geological field trips he arranged for his students. His granddaughter, Lizzie, noted “I just googled my 95 year old grandfather. I found several geological/ archeology journals that listed fossils he had found, references to his master’s thesis, his art listings, reference to his contributions to his Unitarian church, and more . . . a pretty impressive internet presence for a nonagenarian.”
Once he retired at the age of 73, Ed took up painting. He once observed, “I taught myself how to draw as a child . . . everyone teaches themselves how to draw, especially when you are lonely.” His artwork reflects the influence of his interests in architecture and the natural sciences. He spent many years entering juried art shows all over the United States and became a Signature Member of the Southwestern Watercolor Society, as well as other art organizations.
Ed and Janette were married for 58 years prior to her death in 2001. In a moment of gloom while struggling with her loss, Ed wrote an email to all of his daughters: “I am still torn up over Janette’s not being here. But enough of this crap. I love our whole family; the great thing about my life is you four kids and your families.” He was a man’s man who raised four daughters to compete in what he saw as a beautiful but foreboding world. Being a bruised child of the Great Depression, he was well known in his family for protecting his money and his trust, but he also possessed and exhibited a more generous and benevolent spirit than he liked to admit. Tenacious, dogged, unflappable in crisis, he once remarked, “I survived even myself,” and his sparkling wit and eccentric sense of humor remained hallmark traits of his personality to the end. Upon being notified of Ed’s death, his grandson, Brent, encapsulated Ed’s iconoclastic life with the text, “Peace out, Granddaddy.”
Ed is survived by four daughters: Jenny Zeis & husband Paul of Duncanville; Suzanne Borgese & husband Frank of Anaheim, CA; Vicki Barkley & husband Hal of Carrollton; Laura Newsom & husband Al of Southlake; 10 Grandchildren: Karl Zeis & wife Briana, Laura Zeis, Leah Zeis, Katie Borgese & husband Ryan Monahan, Joey Borgese & wife Christa, Brent Barkley & wife Jamie, Will Barkley, Shelly Kilpatrick & husband Chad, Jennifer Riordan & husband Sean, Liz Newsom & husband Jason Martin; 10 Great-Grandchildren: Bayleigh Zeis, Harrison Zeis, Anderson Zeis, Jacob Christensen, Ethan Christensen, Charlie Kilpatrick, Rachel Riordan, Thomas Riordan, Cecilia Riordan, & Pierce Martin.
A military honor guard service will be held on Monday, June 29, 2015, at 3:15 pm at DFW National Cemetery, 2000 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas, TX 75211. In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorial donations to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, PO Box 1890, Amarillo, TX 79174-0001 or www.calfarley.org