Obituary: Colleen Ann Willis |

Obituary: Colleen Ann Willis

Colleen Ann Willis died peacefully in her home in Carson City on June 30, 2011. She was 85. She was born May 4, 1926, in San Bernardino, Calif., to James F. and Catherine L. (Walsh) Collins.

Shortly after her graduation from St. Anthony’s High School in Long Beach, Calif., Colleen enrolled in the federally funded cadet nurses program developed to address the nation’s post-WWII nursing shortage. She trained at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles and, wanting to repay the government for her education and see a bit of the world, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

On her first day of active duty, Colleen met then-Lt. Melvin B. Willis. Within the year, they were married, and she left the service to bear her first child. She often scoffed at contemporary mothers who complain about the challenges of rearing two or three children, proudly noting, “I had five under five.”

A voracious reader, she had a curious mind and knew a little something about a wide range of subjects. This meshed with her love of travel. Her journey’s included Europe and Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the Holy Land, Australia and New Zealand. Two of her grandchildren called her “Airplane” because that’s how they knew her – as the woman who was always coming or going by plane.

The Willises moved to Lake Tahoe in 1970 and later to Genoa. After Melvin’s death, Colleen moved to Carson City.

She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband and three brothers. She is survived by her brother, Michael Collins of Denver, Colo; her children, Valerie (Charles) Maxey of Norman, Okla., Barry Willis of Woodland Hills, Calif., Catherine Willis of Spokane, Wash., Mickie (Skip) Hempler and Jack Willis of both of Zephyr Cove; She had six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

There will be a rosary Wednesday, July 6, 2011, at 10:30 a.m. and a Memorial Mass at 11 a.m. at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Carson City. Interment will follow at Walton’s Carson Gardens Cemetery, 1281 N. Roop St., Carson City, after which there will be a reception at Glen Eagles Restaurant.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to St. Mary’s Hospice, 429 Elm St. Reno, NV 89503.

Walton’s Chapel of the Valley is in charge of final arrangements.