In Appreciation #Destiny #randywillis
I’m thankful to the many people that encouraged me to write our family’s history. My first-cousin, Donnie Willis, planted the first seed in my mind to write about our 4th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Willis. Donnie has been pastor of Fenton Baptist Church in Fenton, Louisiana, for 50 years.
I’m also thankful to my sainted grandmother, Lillie Hanks Willis. She had a treasure chest of stories about Joseph Willis and insisted I write them down.
My Uncle Howard Willis was our family’s master storyteller when I was younger. I sat for many hours mesmerized by him. His granddaughter and my cousin Kimberly Willis Holt was inspired by him too. She is a National Book Award Winner, author of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, My Louisiana Sky, and the Piper Reed series. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town and My Louisiana Sky were adapted as films of the same names.
I’m thankful to my late cousin, and the maternal great-grandson of Joseph Willis, Dr. Greene Wallace Strother. His uncle Polk Willis and Aunt Olive Willis tended to Joseph Willis in his final years, and they shared all that Joseph told them. Dr. Strother gave his vast research to me in 1980. He served as chaplain to General Claire Chennault’s “Flying Tigers” while in China as a missionary. He was a Southern Baptist missionary emeritus to China and Malaysia.
Karon McCartney, Archivist at the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has provided much help in organizing, cataloging, and protecting my research for decades, at the Louisiana Baptist Building in Alexandria.
My fellow historian and friend, the late Dr. Sue Eakin asks me if I would help her with her research on William Prince Ford. I learned much about William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup and their relationship to Joseph Willis from her. She encouraged me to have my research adapted into a play. The play is entitled Twice a Slave and is based upon my novel of the same name. My novel Three Winds Blowing is partly based on the relationship of Joseph Willis with William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup.
Dr. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in Solomon Northup’s 1853 book Twelve Years a Slave. She, at the age of eighteen, rediscovered a long-forgotten copy of Solomon Northup’s book, on the shelves of a bookstore, near the LSU campus, in Baton Rouge. The bookstore owner sold it to her for only 25 cents. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In his acceptance speech for the honor, director Steve McQueen thanked Dr. Eakin: “I’d like to thank this amazing historian, Sue Eakin, whose life, she gave her life’s work to preserving Solomon’s book.”
I’m blessed by and thankful for my three sons: Aaron Willis, Joshua Willis, and Adam Willis. Their strength of character has been demonstrated many times in how they treat those who can do nothing for them. The character Jimbo, in three of my novels, was inspired by them.
And above all, I am thankful to the Good Lord. He has given me wells I did not dig, and vineyards I did not plant.
Preach Christ at all times. When necessary, use words.
“Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”