Ole Miss’s Oldest Student Veteran Dies at age 77

Navy Vet, Teamster Spends Golden Years at UM

James H. Willis is taking courses at the University of Mississippi, working toward a degree he started more than 20 years ago at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He moved to Oxford three years ago and started taking classes last year.

 

By Alyssa Schnugg
News Editor
alyssa.schnugg@hottytoddy.com

At 77 years old, James H. Willis might not have looked like a typical University of Mississippi student; however, the U.S. Navy veteran spent his last years soaking in all the education he could.

Willis died Tuesday, according to the UM Student Veterans Association. Known by his nickname, “Handsome Jim,” he was the oldest veteran student at Ole Miss.

“A shining example of lifelong learning, he worked to demonstrate the value of education,” stated the Student Veterans Association on its Facebook page. “He will always be a part of our community because ‘one never graduates from Ole Miss.’”

Willis was taking courses at the University of Mississippi, working toward a degree he started more than 20 years ago at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He moved to Oxford more than three years ago and started taking classes last year.

While he served in the U.S. Navy from 1952-1962 aboard a Destroyer as a Gunner’s Mate during the Vietnam War, he told Hottytoddy.com in September, his greatest accomplishment was being sober for 29 years after struggling with alcoholism most of his adult life.

Willis could be seen most days driving a scooter around campus that was provided by the Veterans Resource Center on campus.

“Ya know, a lot of people say, ‘Hey why do this at 77?’ So I say, I’m going to be 77 no matter what, so why not? It’s better than sitting around getting old and playing bingo,” he said in September.


 

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