R. J. Wills, a longtime supporter of Pulaski Technical College passed away Monday morning. He was 77.
Mr. Wills had been a longtime educator and supporter of Pulaski Tech.
"RJ has been one of Pulaski Tech's strongest supporters, advocates and friends," said Joyce Taylor, executive director of the Pulaski Technical College Foundation. "Pulaski Technical College is a better college because of him, and our students have better opportunities because of his generous work. We will miss him dearly."
Since 2003, Mr. Wills had served on the Pulaski Technical College Foundation Board of Directors, including the past two and a half years as chairman. Under his leadership, the foundation launched its first capital campaign, the Campus Center and Library Expansion Building Campaign. That campaign raised nearly $4 million toward the costs of renovating and expanding the Ottenheimer Library and building the 93,000-square-foot Campus Center.
In November 2006, the foundation honored Mr. Wills at a fundraiser that raised more than $100,000 for the college. Mr. Wills received a standing ovation from the 300 attendees. As part of the tribute, North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays proclaimed Nov. 3, 2006 as "R.J. Wills Day," and the college named the 235-seat lecture hall on the second floor of the Campus Center in his honor.
Part of his fondness for students at Pulaski Tech and his passion for creating education opportunities stemmed from his own upbringing and education. He was raised by his mother in a single-parent household in Humphrey until the family moved to Little Rock. He graduated from Little Rock Central High in 1947 and started his 35-year career at Worthen Bank, now Bank of America.
His climb up the corporate ladder began in the bank's transit department. From there, he became a bookkeeper, a teller, and then worked in the Installment Loan Department before eventually becoming senior vice president and chief loan officer.
He joined A. Tenenbaum Company as chief financial officer in 1982. Even though he retired in 2004, he continued to serve as secretary for the Tenenbaum board.
"He never really quit working," Taylor said. "His work ethic and his desire to help others kept him going."
Twice during his career, RJ was called away for military duty - during World War II and again during the Korean War. Using the GI Bill, he attended night school for 10 years to complete a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Economics from Little Rock University.
"He knew first-hand what it was like to balance a full-time job with family responsibilities while going to college," said Dr. Dan. F. Bakke, college president. "He experienced those struggles and persevered, and because of that, he wanted to help others who were passionate about getting an education. He worked to make education affordable and accessible - and he succeeded."
Later, Mr. Wills graduated from the School of Consumer Banking McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. After graduation, he taught for 10 years at the American Institute of Banking.
Aside from his work at Pulaski Tech, Mr. Wills contributed his time and talents to many community organizations. He was a founding member of St. James United Methodist Church and was a member of the Baptist Health Foundation Board and Good Shepherd Board of Directors. He was a member of the Rotary Club, Little Rock Junior Chamber of Commerce, Little Rock and North Little Rock Chambers of Commerce and Central Arkansas Chapter of the National Association of Accountants.
He leaves behind his wife of more than 50 years, Mary Janelle Wills, and their daughter, Dr. Pamela Janelle Wills.
Little Rock Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Visit the online guestbook at www.littlerockfuneralhome.com.