Dwaine Lee Willett, 93, of Bluffton, South Carolina, died on August 19, 2019, at Memorial University Medical Center.
Born to Alfred Willett and Loida Elaine Etherton on July 7, 1926, and raised in Superior, Nebraska, Mr. Willett resided in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Indiana before settling in the Lowcountry eleven years ago.
From 1945 through 1948, Mr. Willett served in the Air Force. Upon discharge, he received the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, the Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal. Mr. Willett then studied accounting at Hartness Business College. In 1949, he became an office manager at an automobile dealership, working his way into sales and then to general manager. In 1956, he purchased his first dealership, Willett Ford, in Valparaiso, Indiana, which he sold nearly a decade later to open a larger Ford dealership in Rockford, Illinois. During this time, Mr. Willett was a member of the Ford Dealer Council and head of the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1969, Mr. Willett sold the Illinois dealership to Ford and moved to the Atlanta area where he bought a Lincoln Mercury Dealership in Decatur. In 1972, he entered the car rental business, buying Budget of Atlanta. Ultimately, he and his partner added Budget sites in seven additional cities. At the same time, he purchased dealerships in Decatur (Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Toyota); in Orlando (Toyota); in Sanford (Cadillac); and in Morrow and Douglasville (Honda). In 1992, he built Willett Auto Body Shop in Decatur.
Mr. Willett’s business and community interests were numerous. In 1988, he became a member of the Board of Directors for First Mercantile National Bank which was bought by Regions Bank in 1997. In 1993, he bought and developed 46 acres into an executive neighborhood in Longwood, Florida.
Always the consummate gentleman, Dwaine Willett was a big man with a big heart. His love for family and friends knew no boundaries. When he wasn’t pursuing business interests, Dwaine was happiest hunting with his friends, watching sports (especially baseball), and hosting family and friends in homes that they designed for this purpose. Nothing gave him more pleasure than spending time with his family and watching his grandchildren and great-grandchildren play together.
Mr. Willett is survived by Cynthia Willett, his loving wife of 31 years. He and Cynthia, affectionately known to him as “Cyn,” shared a remarkable love affair, working, playing, and making all decisions together. In 2015, in honor of “Cyn,” and in recognition of their shared hope to see sick children healed, he generously named the Dwaine and Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah.
Dwaine was blessed with six children from a previous marriage: four daughters and sons-in-law, Susan (Gary) Sawyer, of Omaha, Nebraska, Cynthia (Jackson) Smith of Decatur, Georgia, Claudia (Dick) French of Snellville, Georgia, and Carrie (Paul) Chesser of Jefferson, Georgia; two sons and daughters-in-law, Scott (Kelly) Willett of McDonough, Georgia, and Jeffery (Beatrice) Willett of Kennesaw, Georgia; twenty-one grandchildren; and sixteen great-grandchildren. He is also survived by one sister, Jean Fredbloom of Avon, Indiana.
When we think of Dwaine Willett, we will remember his bright blue eyes, his warm, engaging smile, his wonderfully dry sense of humor, his deliberate, calm demeanor in every situation, his quick, calculating mind, his generous spirit, his love of life, and his determination not to leave us no sooner than he had to.
The family will gather privately on Wednesday, August 21, from 5 pm until 7 pm at Fox & Weeks, Hodgson Chapel.
Dwaine’s service will be at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church, where he was a member, on Thursday, August 22, at 11 am. Viewing is from 10 am to 11 am.
The family suggests remembrances be made to Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church Children’s Ministries at 429 Abercorn St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.
Mr. Willett will be interred in Apopka, Florida. The Visitation will be 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Sunday at Highland Funeral Home, with the Graveside Service to follow at 12 p.m. at Highland Memory Gardens in Apopka, Florida.