FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Former Florence Mayor Frank Willis has died, according to Mike Miller with the Greater Florence County Chamber of Commerce.
Willis died early Friday morning, Miller said.
“He was a committed public servant as Mayor of Florence and cared deeply about his community,” Miller said in a statement. “He was a good friend of the Chamber and a large advocate for the revitalization of our downtown.”
“As a city, we have all benefited from Mayor Willis’ service,” current Florence mayor Teresa Myers Ervin said in a statement. “His wisdom and knowledge will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.”
“Fast forward to becoming mayor, he allowed me to be the listening ear of the community, while offering his support,” Ervin’s statement reads. “I am thankful we were able to have a wonderful conversation just last month. On behalf of the Council, city staff, and citizens [of] Florence, we thank him for his vision and service he provided to the City of Florence.”
Francis Marion University President Fred Carter issued a statement about Willis’ death.
“Frank Willis was a consummate gentleman, a selfless public servant, and a steadfast friend,” the statement reads. “Folly and I join the entire Francis Marion University community in extending our deepest condolences to Marguerite. I had the pleasure of working closely with Frank while he was mayor and truly enjoyed our time together then and afterward — including a number of successful economic development trips that he led abroad. Frank’s work established the groundwork for much of the economic and social progress Florence and Pee Dee have enjoyed over the last two decades. He will be missed, but his impact will continue to be felt for a great many years to come.”
Carter said Willis was a strong proponent of growth in the region, both as mayor and afterwards, as the executive director of economic development for Darlington County. He said some of their best conversations happened on the golf course.
“Whether he was on the other side of the pairings for that day or happened to be on your side, Frank was always a good person to be with,” Carter said. “Quick wit, bright guy, extraordinarily well-read.”
Willis was Mayor of Florence from 1995-2008. He was the third-longest serving mayor of Florence.
Mayor Pro Tempore George Jebaily said he became close with Willis during his first campaign for mayor. He said watching him shaped his idea of what a public servant should be.
“He would get in his tractor and clear land for people who needed it,” Jebaily said. “I knew about it, but it wasn’t something he sought recognition for.”
He said he will remember Willis as a friend and a mentor, and that the city benefits from his time in office every day.
“He set the table for so many of the things that are still happening now,” Jebaily said.
In 2008, he lost by one vote in the primary election to Stephen Wukela, who said his actions as mayor helped lay the groundwork for progress that came in the following administrations.
“He really advanced initiatives in the City of Florence that put us on the footing to have the growth we had over the last decade,” Wukela said.
Wukela said he often turned to Willis for advice.
“Just and extraordinarily decent man, kind man and a generous man,” he said. “He will be badly, badly missed.”