ACU Board of Trustees member, former biology professor, Abilene physician dies


For immediate release
August 23, 2001

ABILENE - Prominent local physician Dr. Roy Willingham - a member of the Abilene Christian University Board of Trustees for 27 years and one of the most beloved members of the ACU family - died early Wednesday morning at Hendrick Medical Center. He was 75.

The funeral service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at University Church of Christ and will be directed by Elliott-Hamil. Burial will be at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Abilene.

"Roy Willingham was one of my heroes," ACU president Dr. Royce Money said. "He's one of the men I went to when I needed good advice. He will most definitely be missed.

"I believe that the description of Luke as a 'beloved physician' is a very appropriate one for Roy," Dr. Money said. "He was the rare combination of medical experience and compassion."

Willingham was born in Quail, Texas, but graduated from Wewoka (Okla.) High School in 1943. He attended both Freed-Hardeman and Pepperdine universities before earning his B.S. from ACU in 1946. He earned his M.S. from the University of Tennessee in 1950 and his M.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1959.

After earning his M.S. at age 20, Willingham returned to Abilene and ACU, where he was a member of the biology faculty from 1946-54. He served as chairman of the department, beginning at age 25, from 1951-54 before leaving for Dallas to work on his M.D. While working in the Biology Department, Willingham was named the "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" by the ACU Board of Trustees in 1954.

He returned to Abilene in 1961 and and practiced medicine until 1970, when he moved to Dallas for three years of specialty training in internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He spent the first year of that three-year period working in internal medicine at Parkland Hospital before earning a two-year fellowship in gastroenterology at Dallas Veterans Hospital.

He returned to Abilene in 1973 and opened his gastroenterology practice. He served in several capacities at Hendrick Medical Center, including Chief of Staff from 1984-85. He also served as chief of medicine (1978), secretary of the medical staff (1979-81) and vice chief of staff (1982-83).

He was also president of the Taylor-Jones-Haskell County Medical Society, and he served as a physician with the Abilene/Taylor County Health Authority and medical director for Hendrick Hospice Care in Abilene.

He was a member of several professional organizations and was awarded the Gold-Headed Cane Award in 1994 by the Taylor-Jones-Haskell County Medical Society for exemplifying the highest standards of a physician.

"When I think of Roy Willingham, I think of a compassionate Christian physician," said ACU vice president and former mayor of Abilene, Dr. Gary McCaleb. "There was such a depth of caring about him. He cared about his patients, and he cared about his community.

"He seemed to always be thinking of ways that we could do things better, or how we could do more good for more people," McCaleb said. "He was truly a citizen of the community in obvious ways, but also in ways that people didn't realize. We've lost a great friend, and he will be missed."

Willingham and his wife, Nola, were married 55 years, and they attended University Church of Christ, where he served as an elder.

Survivors include his wife, Nola; three sons: Mike Willingham of Mansfield, Steven Willingham of Abilene and David Willingham of Abilene; two daughters, Karen Willingham of Abilene and Rebecca Willingham-Winchester of Abilene; one sister, Trula Mae Brown, of Abilene; one brother, Charles Willingham of Arlington; 10 grandchildren: Shelley Willingham, Melody Willingham, Robin Willingham, Holly Willingham, Ryan Willingham, Kyle Willingham, Kristen Willingham, Christopher Willingham, Nicholas Winchester, and Matthew Winchester; and one great-grandchild, Tatum Rose Willingham. He is preceded in death by his grandson, Brent Willingham.

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Last update: Aug. 23, 2001

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