A Legacy Fulfilled
For those who know the history of Roanoke College athletics, the name Jeffery Childs Willis '69 is quite familiar. Jeff was a star soccer goalie during the late 60s, setting a school record for saves during his freshman year, and earning a spot on an All-American team.
"Jeff was always smiling, always having fun. He was just one of those people who makes everyone else have a good time," said Scott Anderson, one of Jeff's teammates. "He was also one of the most naturally gifted soccer players I ever met. He just understood the game, and knew where to be. He was a force in goal, to be sure."
Jeff's mother, Catherine Childs, always knew that soccer was important to Jeff. "He was the fourth of my five children," said Childs, who now lives in Manhasset, New York. "And soccer was his passion. So when he was looking at colleges, he took that into consideration. He knew he wanted to play. He absolutely adored his time at Roanoke College.
" Tragically, following a brilliant collegiate career, Jeff was killed in a car accident only a few days before his graduation. Mrs. Childs wanted to commemorate Jeff's time at Roanoke, so she established The Jeffery Childs Willis Memorial Trophy Award. The annual award gives recognition to the top student athlete on the Maroons' soccer team.
"My family and I just felt that something wasn't quite finished because of Jeff's accident. We felt like the College had made such a lasting impact on him, and he on the College, and we wanted to honor that. That's what the award is really about," said Childs.
Every spring since 1969, the award has been given to one of the most outstanding student athletes on the team. Anderson was the first recipient. "It's still displayed in my office today, and I can't tell you how much it means to me. Jeff was a great teammate, but he was a better friend. After his accident, we were all crushed. I was honored to receive the award in his name," he recalls.
In 2004, Mrs. Childs wanted to do still more to honor her son's legacy at Roanoke College. She established The Jeffrey Childs Willis '69 Endowed Soccer Fund to improve the soccer teams' ability to travel and to pursue international athletic opportunities. Already this gift has made a difference for the student athletes who traveled this past year to Sao Paulo, Brazil to take part in an international soccer day with some of the world's most gifted soccer teams.
Jeff Childs Willis made an indelible mark on Roanoke College during his time here. And thanks to the generosity of his mother, his legacy of excellence in athletics and academics will continue for generations to come. "Roanoke College was so important to Jeff, and that makes it important to me," continued Childs. "I'm only giving back a portion of what the school gave to my son."