– Keith Wil­liam Wil­lis (Bill)

3rd April 1929 - 20th De­cem­ber 2015

The Oban Times - - Births, Marriages & Deaths -

Bill Wil­lis, Royal Navy diver, an­ar­chist, miner, elec­tri­cian, far­rier, fish­er­man, shep­herd, boat­builder, bee-keeper, wel­ter-weight boxer, com­puter geek and the near­est Lis­more has ever had to Re­nais­sance Man, must still be laugh­ing about his fu­neral last month. Too bad the weather wasn’t as dry as his hu­mour. He would have en­joyed watch­ing his two sets of mourn­ers, diehards and Dionysians, wait­ing at Port Ap­pin for a break in the weather. Gale force eight gusts made the ferry cross­ing im­pos­si­ble.

The diehards – bat­tered, drenched, and de­spon­dent – hud­dled on the jetty to make sure of a place when Fer­ry­man Fats gave the go ahead. The 10 o’clock man­aged to get across but failed to land in the heav­ing Loch Linnhe swell and even­tu­ally brought its ashen-faced cargo back to the main­land.

Mean­while, the Dionysians did what Bill would have ad­vised. They con­verged on the Pier House bar and drank Crag­gan­more and Old Pul­teney – his favourite tip­ples – and toasted his mem­ory.

‘Well, maybe just a top up, I’m the des­ig­nated driver,’ said a man slowly col­laps­ing against the wall.

That so many peo­ple should brave flood­ing, rock­slides, gales and hourly red weather alerts to come to Bill’s fu­neral is no sur­prise. He was a se­ri­ously spe­cial per­son. Big, tough, prac­ti­cal, hard-drink­ing, and la­conic (un­til you passed muster – not ev­ery­one did), he was made of the metal of Hem­ing­way he­roes.

The griz­zled pho­to­graph of him on the front of the Or­der of Fu­neral Ser­vice could have il­lus­trated the jacket of Hem­ing­way’s The Old Man

And The Sea.

It wasn’t a church ser­vice. Two weeks be­fore he died Bill asked the new Lis­more min­is­ter to drop in. He wasn’t only an an­ar­chist, he in­formed the Rev­erend Dr Iain Bar­clay, he was also a hea­then. He wanted to be buried in St Moluag’s church­yard next to his beloved wife Do­ranne (nee Brown), but he def­i­nitely did not want a religious cer­e­mony. The mourn­ers should sim­ply gather out­side the church for the in­ter­ment of his wil­low-plaited cof­fin ac­com­pa­nied by a piper. And when we all fi­nally got across to Bal­ly­garve in bib­li­cal rain­fall, even by West High­land stan­dards, that is just what we did.

It was Do­ranne who in­tro­duced Bill to Lis­more. He grew up in Devon, left school at 13 to be­come, first a sta­ble lad, then a jockey – the youngest ever over the sticks at Don­caster. Then Royal Navy ser­vice in Hong Kong (he learned Can­tonese), a stint as a miner in Wales, and off to Lon­don. At the An­ar­chists Club in High­gate he met and im­me­di­ately fell for tiny, feisty Glas­gow Univer­sity grad­u­ate Do­ranne. They mar­ried in 1956 and spent their hon­ey­moon on Lis­more in a cot­tage be­long­ing to life-long friends Chris and Mar­garet Small. When in 1958 Do­ranne be­came the Lis­more school­teacher, the Wil­lis’s moved per­ma­nently to the is­land. At a stroke the two pas­sions of his life Do­ranne and Lis­more were re­alised.

From some­one who could stow his worldly goods into a ruck­sack and hit the road at a minute’s no­tice, Bill be­came the quin­tes­sen­tial fam­ily man. He rarely left the is­land. Why would he? Ev­ery­thing he wanted was here – his wife, three chil­dren, four grand­chil­dren, his dogs, his boat, his bees, his lat­est quirky in­ter­est – at 81 he found an in­ter­est­ing DIY web­site and started build­ing his own elec­tric gui­tar. Bill had a large di­verse cir­cle of friends re­flect­ing his own tal­ent for multi task­ing and eclec­tic in­ter­ests. He liked peo­ple who did things, not peo­ple who talked about do­ing things.

The big com­fort­able front room of Tao­bar nan Ias­gair, The Fish­er­man’s Well – the house he built over­look­ing Ach­nacroish pier when Do­ranne re­tired in 1987 – was where you stopped for a chat on your way to or from the Oban ferry. Jim and Vic his sheep­dogs an­nounced your ar­rival. ‘You’ll have a dram,’ he’d say, emerg­ing from the kitchen. It wasn’t a ques­tion, it was a state­ment. You didn’t al­ways make it to the ferry. Bill’s drams were never wee. Be­sides, you were too busy talk­ing to an­other vis­i­tor, an old div­ing mate from Hong Kong maybe, or the young fish­er­man from down the lane with a live crab the size of a som­brero that he’d just caught for Bill’s sup­per. Or a Cana­dian aca­demic in­ter­ested in pharol­ogy who’d heard Mr Wil­lis of­ten fished near the Lis­more light­house. Any chance of a lift?

Bill’s cu­rios­ity was bound­less, his ques­tions nar­row, his in­ter­est gen­uine. He was a good lis­tener and great com­pany. When I used to phone to say we were com­ing up to Lis­more and ask, was it still rain­ing? I al­ways got the same grave re­ply: ‘You know it never rains on Lis­more, Sue.’

Of course it doesn’t Bill. We’ll miss you.

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