Jim Willis, former Rio Coach, passes away By: Jennifer Blatt

Sadly, we learned of the recent passing of Jim Willis, a former Rio coach and friend to the Tempe Town Lake rowing community. This brief bio was prepared by a rowing colleague of Jim's, Mike Cook, and he has graciously shared it with us.

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Jim rowed for his prep school Phillips Exeter Academy, where he and his crew competed at the Royal Henley Regatta. Jim then matriculated to Dartmouth College often regaling stories of rowing with frozen fingers. By this time rowing was firmly instilled in Jim's life and continued to be a tremendous part of his life. After moving to Los Angeles, Jim work at USC while coaching the freshman men’s crew. In the mid-‘70’s, Jim along with rower Janet Miller founded the USC Women’s Crew.


Jim rowed for Long Beach Rowing Association where he started the infamous “Motley Crew” rowing team in the late 70’s and 80’s. 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, maybe even the San Diego Crew Classic.


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. There, he could typically be found calculating and verifying race times at the finish line along with his good friend, the late Duke Robinson.


Jim retired to Phoenix after a long career in telecommunications. He was responsible for developing Alaska's telephone system, and also developed critical software for the 411 information operators (remember those) who were able to almost instantaneously find telephone numbers for the 411 callers.


Jim continued his volunteer crew efforts even in retirement by coaching and mentoring rowers and coaches at Rio Salado Rowing Club, and Arizona State University. He also volunteered with the Tempe Rowers Association regatta committee, and you could find him under an officials tent at both the Desert Sprints and Hot Head regattas, virtually every year.


Thanks for being here, Jim. We will miss you.

Jim's sister, Anne Willis Peck can be reached via email at awp31max@gmail.com, for those who would like to share their condolences.  


 


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