Robert E. Willis was born on December 13, 1909. The son of Augustine and Mary (Hine), Willis attended a number of Manatee County public schools, including a one-room school house in Rye in 1917 as well as Palmetto and Manatee High Schools. Willis continued his education by reading the law as a law clerk while working under the mentorship of Dewey A. Dye.
The numerous accolades for Judge Willis and his countless accomplishments are quite impressive. During his distinguished career, for example, Judge Willis served as Chairman of the Manatee County School Board, and served as President of both the Florida and the National School Board Associations. He was also a member of the White House Conference on Education in 1956. Judge Willis dedicated countless hours working with students, teachers, and patrons on support of better education for Manatee County Schools. A forward thinker as School Board Chairman, Willis ensured that more land was purchased than necessary for the planned Manatee Community, thus solidifying the future growth of the college now known as State College of Florida.
As a lawyer and judge, Willis built a reputation of integrity, honesty, and compassion. One of the best examples of this is when Willis defended a disabled World War II soldier who had lost his land due to non-payment of taxes. Willis successfully argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court resulting in overturning the lower court s previous ruling.
Because of his lifelong commitment to education, Judge Willis ensured that future generations of Manatee County students would have better educational opportunities. Judge Willis was survived by his wife Dorothy Pauline Balis, and their four children: Barbara Ann Willis Center, Dorothy Pauline Willis Clum, Mary Jo Wills, and Robert Willis, Jr.