ROSS TWP. — Ross Twp. Trustee Tom Willsey was described as “true Ross through and through” and someone who left an unmatched legacy serving his community.
Willsey, 74, died Friday after battling cancer and just days after the community paid tribute to him and renamed the trustee board room in his honor.
“When you think about it, anything that anybody did before him and anything that anybody does after him is measured by what he did,” Former township administrator Bob Bass said. “He gave 36 years of his life as a trustee and even more as a fireman, and starting as a volunteer fireman and I think he made it all the way to position of assistant chief. He’s just been a major part of the community for a long time.”
In addition to his governmental service he was a past president of the Ohio Township Association, past president of Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority (OTARMA), served for 20 years on the board of directors for the Butler County Township Association, chairman of the Butler County Advisory Health Council, member of the Small Community Advisory Council EPA, member of and past president of the Ross Lions Club.
Trustee board president Ellen Yordy, who served with Willsey for 18 years, said he was a mentor and a friend and it was hard to encapsulate all that he did for the community, “he was true Ross through and through.”
“When someone sits on a board for 36 years it says volumes about that person to have been elected as a Ross Twp. trustee nine times. It speaks of his integrity, honesty, his leadership ability and most definitely his love for his township,” Yordy said.
“Tom always put the township first, what was best for the township. All matters and concerns that residents had were never taken lightly. No issue was too small or too large for that matter. He answered to the people.”
Yordy said Willsey was instrumental in bringing a second fire station to the township — in cooperation with the village of Millville — after growth exploded in the northern part of the township, “to enable our fire department to provide improved response times for both EMS and fire services. The residents always came first for Tom and he knew how to get the job done.”
She said there are many other projects he spearheaded and was in the midst, along with the rest of the board, of trying to responsibly direct future growth. The trustees have come under fire by some residents recently with the mega Burns Farm mixed-use development, because of traffic and a host of other concerns.
The township has worked for three years trying to find a way to protect the schools from rapid growth and ensure development pays for itself as much as possible, according to Yordy.
“Tom could see Ross growing and knew we had to get in front of it and be proactive,” Yordy said. “We had to figure out a way to have Ross grow but still maintain our rural style and still be able to give out township residents the amenities that they were looking for and wanting. He began looking for new ideas on how to make this happen.”
Bass has been working with the trustees as a consultant on the project and he said Willsey approached this issue like he did all others.
“The thing that always struck me with Tom was there was never a decision that Tom made on the spur of the moment,” Bass said. “No matter how great the need was for speed, Tom never sacrificed the integrity of the decision for speed. He wanted to make sure he thought it all the way through and looked at all the different angles. The was just the nature of that way he did business.”
Trustee Keith Ballauer has been on the board since 2018 said “it’s unbelievable” everything Willsey touched in his life, “it’s going to be a hole in township government and Butler County, he was a large voice.”
Everyone who knew him knew he was no shrinking violet and when he thought something wasn’t right — like Butler County charging the township for 911 dispatching — he spoke up.
“He was a good guy, I consider him a good friend. You always knew where you stood and that was fine,” Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Deal with the facts and move on, you could do that with him. A lot of people if you don’t agree them then they get mad and just shut you out and the issues you’re talking about. Tom was never that way.”
Another friend of more than 20 years Paul Bricking said they met fighting fires and joined the Ross Lions Club about the same time in 2001.
“He did everything there, he was our president in 2004 and 2005 and a key factor in every fundraiser, every benefit we ever had,” Bricking said.
Ohio Township Association Executive Director Heidi Fought said he served on that board 1998 through 2017, 10 years as a director and another decade as an officer, “no one was a better public servant than Tom Willsey.”
“He served unselfishly and helped develop his township, his county township association and the Ohio Township Association...,” Fought said. “His smile and easiness drew me in and was likely the main reason he was such a wonderful township trustee.”
Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Charles C. Young Funeral Home, 4032 Hamilton Cleves Road, Ross, OH 45014. Funeral Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday with burial to follow in Venice Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Ross Twp. Fire Department, the Ross Twp. Police Department, or the Ross Lion’s Club.