Willis, James Hughson (5/6/2018)

Green Book and Yearbook photos (if available): 
Freshman dorm: 
North Wigwam

Jim Willis was a big guy, nearly six-foot eight, but his tough exterior belied his kind heart and wry sense of humor. His interest in rowing was a lifelong passion. Jim rowed for Phillips Exeter Academy, where he and his crew competed at the Royal Henley Regatta. Jim often told stories of rowing with frozen fingers at Dartmouth. By then, rowing was firmly instilled and continued to be a tremendous part of his life.  Following graduation, Jim was selected for the 1970 National Team and just missed being selected for the 1972 Olympic team.  In 1986 Jim was inducted into Dartmouth’s “Wearers of the Green”.

After his days as a rower ended, he took up coaching. After moving to Los Angeles, Jim worked at USC while coaching the freshman Men’s Crew. In the mid '70s Jim, along with rower Janet Miller, founded the USC Women’s Crew. He was a timer at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and has been a referee for the U. S. Rowing Association for decades. He would go to the Arizona State campus, recruit for the team, and coach them.  He would truck shells to the San Diego Crew Classic where he officiated for years.

Jim’s skill in mathematics at Dartmouth launched his computer career back in the early days of programming. He helped his professor at Dartmouth write a math textbook. His career took him to California, where he wrote programs for the telecommunications industry. Jim was responsible for developing Alaska's telephone system and, he also developed critical software for the 411 information operators (remember those?) who were able to almost instantaneously find telephone numbers for 411 callers. Jim also ran a project in West Virginia quantifying information on black lung disease among coal miners.

Jim loved the outdoors, climbing the Tetons and mountains in Alaska. He was a good cook and taught his nieces in Virginia how to make great guacamole. Jim enjoyed wine trips to Santa Ynez Valley with fraternity brothers and became quite the wine connoisseur.  He was a terrific trivia buff and enjoyed word games.  He was an avid reader, usually able to quote from various resources in conversation.

While Jim retired to Scottsdale, Arizona, he continued his involvement in rowing.  He became a stalwart member of the Tempe Town Lake rowing community in the early years.  He brought his immense depth of knowledge about rowing to the various local clubs and ASU as a coach and mentor.

His ashes will be interred in Danville, Virginia on May 4, 2019.  His relatives include brother Bob Willis of Fort Myers, Florida, and sister Anne Peck of Richmond, Virginia.




Jim hated Harvard, probably stemming from days at Phillips Exeter.  The night before the football game our senior year, Jim squeezed into my 356A Porsche with the intent to get even.  Speeding toward Cambridge, we were stopped by a Newton policeman.  He ignored our exuberance and sent us on the way.  Once on the Harvard campus, we sought out the statue of John Harvard and doused him with a gallon of Pantone 349C paint.  We got out of there quickly, gleeful but fearful of getting caught. 
Bruce Hamilton


Jim was big and tall, but an eighth of an inch short of being classified 4-F.  Being a crew jock, he trained virtually year-round, only drinking for six weeks during the winter and never drinking coffee.  Prior to his Army physical, he drank a thermos or two of coffee, blowing his blood pressure off the charts and disqualifying him for the military. 
AXA Fraternity brother


Starter Jim Willis was keeping his sense of humor and a calm demeanor. The wind was blowing at 14 miles per hour Friday morning and the crews in the boats he was trying to line up to race were having trouble staying pointed down the race course.  Some were finding it impossible, like four women in a quad race he was trying to line up. “You’re going the wrong way you know,” Willis said to the struggling crew. “You can back it down the course if you really want, but you probably won’t get too far.”
Excerpt from USRowing.org Not Without Them August 13, 2010


It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of Jim Willis. As a longtime board member for the Tempe Rowers Association and regatta committee, Jim served in every possible capacity over the years, from the start line to the finish line and everywhere in-between both as a US Rowing official and as a volunteer. His gregarious presence and stories about the "old days of rowing” will be missed.  Rio Salado Rowing Club


Jim rowed for us, where he started the notorious Motley Crew rowing team in the late '70s and '80s. His Motley Crew was made up of an ad-hoc mix of available ex-Olympic oarsmen and/or ex-USA team oarsman and competed at such events as the Head of the Harbor and Head of the Charles.  Long Beach Rowing Association


Jim worked virtually every San Diego Crew Classic, from the very first until his health precluded him from making the trip from his home in Phoenix, AZ.  Jim could typically be found calculating and verifying race times at the San Diego Crew Classic finish line along with his good friend, the late Duke Robinson.  San Diego Crew Classic