Kenneth C. Willis died in hospice care on July 29 after a long battle with jaw cancer. He was 69.
Willis, born June 12, 1946, had been a Dupont Circle resident for 40 years and was a familiar sight on 17th Street, N.W., where he lived with his husband. He loved jogging, reading in the circle and patronizing the many restaurants, nightclubs and bookstores in the neighborhood. He was especially fond of Trio, and, in its day, Lambda Rising. He loved the Gay Men’s Chorus concerts. He had recently retired as an information systems specialist with the Inspector General of General Services Administration, where he was given an exemplary service award “in recognition of 32 years of professionalism, dedication and commitment to excellence.” He walked to and from GSA’s building at 18th and F streets, N.W. all those years. During the war in Vietnam, he was an Army MP in Saigon. He held two degrees from the University of Mississippi.
Originally from a small town in Mississippi, Willis moved to Washington in 1975 for its freedom and opportunity. He used to say that he had escaped. In 1981, he met his future husband Robert H. Wood at a popular gay bar, the Frat House, later renamed Omega.
Willis and Wood became charter members of Partners in 1995, a group of gay couples who sought to establish social lives apart from bars.
Willis and Wood obtained a domestic partnership on the first day that form of civil union became available in Washington: July 1, 2002. They were married on May 17, 2010, the first year that was possible, 29 years to the day after they met.
Willis enjoyed eight-10 weekends each season at bed and breakfasts in Rehoboth Beach, Del., especially the Delaware Inn, where he and Wood were guests from 1998 until it closed in 2013. Long days on the beach were followed by joyful nights at places like the Boat House, the Renegade, the Strand, the Blue Moon, and more recently, the Aqua Grill.
Willis is survived by his husband, two brothers, two brothers in law, sisters in law, nieces and nephews on both sides, their children, and many cousins. A memorial service will be held Sept. 20, 12:45 p.m. at Foundry United Methodist Church (1500 16th St., N.W.). His ashes will be placed at Arlington National Cemetery. Donations in his memory may be made to Whitman-Walker Health, attn: Development, 1701 14th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.