Ralph N. Willis, auto parts distributor

The Baltimore Sun

Ralph N. "Bo" Willis, who owned a wholesale distributorship of automobile and truck parts, died of complications from pulmonary fibrosis Wednesday at his home at the Brightwood retirement community in Lutherville. He was 77.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Mount Washington, Mr. Willis attended Friends School and Gilman School, where he helped the lacrosse team win three Maryland Scholastic Association championships and also played football and basketball. He was the C. Markland Kelly Award winner in lacrosse and was voted All-State by local sportswriters.

"He was an outstanding athlete," said H. Furlong Baldwin, a retired banker and friend. "When Bo walked into a room, the room knew Bo was there. He was a standout as an individual, a man of complete integrity."

At Princeton University, Mr. Willis was a three-time All-American in lacrosse and a key member of the 1951 and 1953 national championship teams. He also played football for the Tigers. He was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1983.

After graduation and a two-year stint in the Navy, he joined his family business, R.W. Norris and Sons, a Gay Street auto parts business founded by his family as a carriage parts company in 1850. He was its sales manager.

In 1962, he founded Chesapeake Rim & Wheel Distributors Inc. At his death, he was board chairman of the business, now on Pulaski Highway.

Mr. Willis later had a leg amputated but continued to play sports. A golfer, he was the 1975 winner of the Elkridge-Green Spring Handicap.

"No matter what happened, Bo kept on," said Redmond Finney, the former Gilman School headmaster and a friend. "He played on one leg and beat us all. He never let a setback deter him. He was also one of the most generous persons I've ever met."

He served on the boards of the Gilman School, the Lacrosse Hall of Fame Foundation, the Thomas Wilson Foundation, the Elkridge Club and Carey Machinery.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. He was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Mount Washington.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Sally Gardner; a son, David Norris Willis of Baltimore; two daughters, Cary Weems of Atlanta and Julie O'Connor of Concord, Mass.; two sisters, Sallie Hewitt of Annapolis and Katherine Monroe of Irvington, Va.; and 10 grandchildren.

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