The family of Judy Bryan Willis is saddened to announce the Professional Mother/Grandmother and friend to all slipped the bonds of this earth on the morning of Friday, April 21, 2023. She was at home in her bed, surrounded by her family. Judy is reunited in Heaven with her mother, Margaret Bryan, and her father, Joe Bryan.
Born in 1939, she grew up in Damascus, GA, the first child of Joe and Margaret Bryan. The family eventually grew to include two sisters, Jo and Janie, on whom Judy first practiced her skills at mothering. Remarkably, the sisters survived with all limbs intact, graciously forgave all her mistakes, and adored their oldest sibling right to the end.
She graduated from Damascus High School and later earned an Associate Degree from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA.
Following graduation, Judy moved to Albany, GA where she met the love of her life and husband of 62 years, J.W. Willis. She often said he was so arrogant she just knew he must have come from money. She soon discovered he was rich only in that he came from a large, tight-knit family steeped in maternal love. She married him anyway.
The couple soon moved back to Damascus where J.W. went to work with his father-in-law at the family business, Damascus Peanut Company. Not long after that, they decided it was time to start a family. Their first son, Bryan, was born in 1963, and their second son, Brad, was born in 1992.
There were few job prospects in 1961 for a woman living in a small town, so Judy forged a path of her own as a Professional Mother, a career which became a stepping stone to her preferred role as a Professional Grandmother. Despite the fact her children (and, let’s be honest, her grandchildren too) were not what you might call ‘exceptional athletes’, Judy attended every track meet, every football game, every baseball game, and every tennis match with the optimism of a devoted mother/grandmother that this next meet/game/match was going to be the one in which her child/grandchild would finally prove himself to be a star athlete. We disappointed her every time, but she never let it show.
Judy got a great deal more satisfaction out of our academic accomplishments and was proud to see her children and grandchildren enter college. In keeping with her professionalism as a mother and grandmother, she frequently called us to encourage our studies, to ask if we needed anything, or just to say hello. If she had called a few times without reaching us, she was not above finding out the phone numbers of our friends/accomplices and tracking us down in this manner. We were never embarrassed by this, by the way.
After their children left the nest, J.W. surprised Judy with a gift: her favorite house in Albany. For years, every time she drove by the house, she would remark on how she’d love to live there. Once she got her chance, she threw herself into a renovation of the house and the yard. An avid gardener, Judy loved to dig in the dirt. She brought bulbs and plants and trees from her former home and her father’s home and planted them at her new house in Albany. Many people think of her yard as one of the most beautiful in the area, and she has allowed others to use it for weddings, prom photos, and for one very special marriage proposal (she said ‘yes’ and will join the Willis family next year).
While Judy was blessed in so many ways, she also faced a great deal of adversity. For decades, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which frequently left her in great pain. In 2011, she successfully battled esophageal cancer though not without enduring the effects of chemotherapy. She faced both diseases with stoicism and grace. Judy rarely let rheumatoid arthritis interfere with her activities and never complained about the pain to anyone outside of family. Whenever she heard that anyone she knew had just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, she called immediately to try to lift their spirits and answer any questions they might have. Many people in Albany told her that she was their role model to continue to persevere in the face of pain and hopelessness. She was very proud of inspiring others.
Judy Willis was a devoted wife. She cherished her family. She was a loyal friend. She had a kind heart. And she was generous beyond measure. Our hearts are heavy as we move forward in the wake of our loss, but we will strive to incorporate her qualities into our lives for it is the best way we know of to keep her spirit alive.
May every memory of Judy Bryan Willis bless you now and in the coming days.
Survivors include her husband, J.W. Willis of Albany, GA, her children, Bryan (Molly) Willis of Albany, GA and Brad Willis, of Los Angeles, CA, her grandchildren, Jake Willis of Atlanta, GA, Marsh Willis of Albany, GA, Davis Willis of Albany, GA, and Shep Willis of Auburn, AL, her sisters Jo (Charles) Bush of Iron City, GA and Janie Bryan of Honolulu, HI, along with many nieces, nephews, in-laws, and cousins that she loved dearly.
The Willis family would like to acknowledge Cindy Baltimore, a very special person who came into Judy’s life twelve years ago after she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Cindy nursed Judy back to health and has loved, cared for, and ministered to both Judy and J.W. with all the devotion of a daughter. We will always be grateful to her.
Graveside services will be officiated by Dr. Alex Howell and held at Crown Hill Cemetery at 1907 Dawson Road in Albany at 11:00 in the morning on Tuesday, April 25. Following the service, visitation and lunch will be held at the Shackleford House at 1801 Dawson Road in Albany.
Memorials may be sent to Mayo Clinic, 4500 San Pablo Road, Jacksonville, FL 32224 or St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105.