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FBC Ashland’s Willis retiring, honored for 45 years as secretarycomment (0)

January 11, 2007

By Jeremy Dale Henderson


"She can tell you every phone number in the city," Gregory said. "When I first got here, I thought I was going to need a map, but she said, ‘You don’t need a map. I’ll tell you where to go.’"

Though her reputation as both human phone directory and compass is storied, most identify Willis with a vintage dexterity for manual bookkeeping, as well as a fantastic aversion to personal computers. Until 2005, "she did all the book work by hand," Gregory said.

"Oh no, no," Willis responded to the suggestion of trading pencils and ledgers for spreadsheets and keyboards. "No, I haven’t learned the computer yet. They put one in the church a few years ago, but I didn’t have any help and I couldn’t learn it."

While Evelyn Harris, the church’s current financial secretary — who has taken over the general secretarial duties — is more adept when it comes to electronics, she will be the first to tell you that words like "replace" can never apply to Willis.

"We’ve started putting [the church’s] finances on computer, but I’m overwhelmed by so many details and things that take place, whereas Mrs. Willis can just do things off the cuff," Harris said.

Willis, who has doubled as a Carey Association secretary for 23 years, is a 50-year member of Lystra Baptist Church, Ashland, in Carey Association, but that’s done nothing to keep her from the throne of the First, Ashland, congregation’s heart. "She’s thought of as a member," Gregory said. "Her photo has been in every church directory."

"I have really grown to love them," Willis said of her surrogate church family. "I have really learned through the years what church work is all about, and I feel like all my work with the association and the church has helped me become a better Christian. I feel like it has brought new life to me."

So Dec. 17, First, Ashland, celebrated Edna Mae Willis Day, in honor of a hero of its congregation, who happens to be a member of Lystra Baptist.

There were speeches and music and even a resolution from the office of the governor, who is a member of First, Ashland. To Gregory, it seemed only right.

"We’ve been so blessed to have her," he said. "She’d do anything you want her to and she loves her Lord."

Thursdays are for her hair appointments and buying groceries, but just the afternoons and her co-workers practically have to force her to take the time off. A few scattered sick days are the closest she’s come to a vacation.

If idle hands are the devil’s tools, then he lost his hammer somewhere in Clay County close to half a century ago.

At least that’s so long as we’re talking about Edna Mae Willis. Willis has been the secretary at First Baptist Church, Ashland, in Carey Baptist Association for 45 years. As far as Pastor Terry Gregory is concerned, "Mrs. Willis is First Baptist."

And she will be missed.

December 31 marked her final day on a job that began in October 1961, back when Eugene Hudgins was pastor and John F. Kennedy was president.

Gregory, her current boss, was the 13th pastor Willis has served "or the 14th, if you count all the interims. I forgot one of them," she said, laughing. But she doesn’t forget much.

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