October 15, 2015

John Willis in the US Navy

Ray Davis didn’t go to Texas A&M University. But when he befriended John Willis, a 1992 engineering technology graduate, who was battling cancer, he suddenly understood what it meant to be an Aggie. Inspired by Willis’ love for Texas A&M, Davis created a $25,000 endowment to support capstone projects in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution to memorialize his new friend after his passing.

A Special Bond

Davis, owner and president of ADCO Industries, a company that designs safety box cutters, shelving and products that prevent injury, learned of Willis and his illness from Gary Evers, Willis' step-father-in-law and close friend. Willis’ struggle moved Davis, and he felt compelled to phone a man he had never met before. The pair ultimately formed a special connection. 

“God intervened and brought us together,” Davis said. “I don’t think I ever saw anybody with the dedication and determination that John had.” 

During their conversations, Willis shared with Davis his desire to return to Aggieland. He told Davis about his Texas A&M experience and how it was an integral part of his life, giving him a chance to grow both academically and personally. 

"John’s purpose in life became clear to him at A&M, and the Aggie code became part of him," Davis said. "I had no idea Texas A&M did so much to build an individual’s character and value system." 

According to Evers, Willis flourished during his time as a student. He was a natural leader, and his experience in engineering organizations gave him the opportunity to hone those skills. 

One project in particular, the capstone project, allowed Willis the freedom to explore a diverse range of passions and ideas as a young engineer. Without the pressures or constraints of a nine-to-five job, Willis saw the project as an opportunity to grow creatively. 

“John was convinced that young engineering students are more open to explore new innovative projects as a group,” Davis said.  “His desire was to encourage capstone teams to create their own intellectual properties.” 

Spreading the Aggie Spirit 

Willis passed away in 2014. And while his illness prevented him from making a final trip home to Aggieland, so moved was he by the Aggie spirit, Davis felt compelled to visit in honor of his friend. 

John Willis with his family

“John wanted more than anything to return to A&M, and his dying wish was that I go to A&M for him if he could not,” Davis said.  
His experience on campus and meeting the faculty allowed Davis to see Willis’ passion for the department firsthand. After touring the facilities and hearing about the capstone project, Davis was eager to support it by funding an endowment. 

In March 2015, Davis made a $25,000 donation that, along with a match from the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, will fund the John L. Willis '92 Endowment to provide engineering students the opportunity to explore their passions through the hands-on capstone projects.

"What John knew and hoped to express to the department was that by allowing the students to work together at the peak of their creativity, anything is possible," Davis said.

Both Evers and Davis hope the gift will unlock in future students the same zest for life and innovating spirit that Willis embodied both as an engineer and as a proud Aggie.

By Cassidy Hudson ’16

Texas A&M Foundation 
The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that solicits and manages investments in academics and leadership programs to enhance Texas A&M’s capability to be among the best universities.

You can support the Dwight Look College of Engineering with an online credit card donation or gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. For additional information about how to benefit the college, contact Don Fazzino ’84 with the Foundation at (800) 392-3310, (979) 458-2354 or dfazzino@txamfoundation.com.