Despite the diagnosis, Willis spent 2017 continuing to run calls with his fellow Asheville firefighters. He most recently worked as an Engineer at Asheville Fire Station no. 6. He had previously served as the deputy chief of Ebbs Chapel Volunteer Fire Department, which he joined at age 16.
In a rare move, Willis' death from cancer was ruled a “line of duty death” by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. For only the second time in state history, the ruling means the Willis family will receive disability benefits, his four children will receive a free college education at a North Carolina public university and Willis’ name will be added to a state memorial in Raleigh, with a LODD ceremony in May. The ruling also further validates the crisis of cancer as the leading cause of death among firefighters.
The family held a graveside service in February at Laurel Baptist Church. According to his obituary, Willis was a man of faith who served as an elder at the Burnsville Seventh Day Adventist Church. A memorial service for Willis was held on Sunday, Mar. 11 at Brookstone Church in Weaverville. Friends and family launched a Go Fund Me page, for Willis’ family and donations can be made to the Benefit for Will Willis Account at First Citizen Bank in Weaverville.
Willis is survived by his wife of 13 years, Bonnie, and their four children, Walker, 9, Hudson, 6, Darby, 4, and Chauncey, 2.