Ronald Arthur Willis

Mass of Christian Burial for Ronald A. Willis, 79, Lawrence, will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 10 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lawrence. A private family inurnment will follow in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lawrence. A celebration of his life will be held in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre on Saturday, March 14, at 3pm.

Mr. Willis, Emeritus Professor of Theatre at the University of Kansas, died at home of congestive heart failure on March 6, 2015. He was born in Morristown, New Jersey on May 17, 1935, the son of George and Elizabeth Willis.

Ron earned a B.S. from Rutgers University in 1956, an M.F.A. from Ohio University in 1957, and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1968. He taught at Defiance College in Ohio (1957-60), the University of Vermont (1964-65), Colorado State University (1965-70), and the University of Kansas, 1970 until his retirement in 2000. He was Director of Theatre at KU, 1976-89, serving also as Chair of the Department.

Ron served as both Playwriting Awards Chair and National Committee Chair for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and received a Gold Medallion for Outstanding Service. He was a member of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre and a nationally recognized theatre adjudicator. His book, “Fragile Magic: A Guidebook for Theatre Respondents” is available on Amazon.

Ron is survived by his wife of 58 years, Marie; sons Jeffrey, Craig, and Jason, their wives Sheree, Robin, and Jackie; grandchildren Emma and David Supica, Claire, Elizabeth, Brand, and Jessica Willis, Sean Landreth, Kyle Waggoner, and Jonathan Collins, and great-grandchildren Eliana, Kylie, and Caleb Collins; his sister Lorraine Eickmeyer, nephew Robert Willis, Robert’s wife Carolyn, their sons Cody and Ryan; and nieces Darlene and Cheryl. Ron was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, “Bunk.”

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to endow a teaching award in his name for the Department of Theatre. Make checks payable to KUEA/Department of Theatre in memory of Ronald A. Willis or online at



3 Condolences

  1. Connie Nieman on March 6, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    My deepest sympathy for the loss of Ron. He was an outstanding teacher and colleague. I always admired his kind and patient teaching style. I am sorry for your loss.

  2. Amber Rowland on March 7, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Marie, my heart goes out to you and your family. Ron was a beautiful soul. As a little girl, I have precious memories of playing in the cold-a-sac and chatting with Ron. He was ornery with all of us, always making us laugh. I will miss his ready smile and quick wit. Peace be with you.

  3. anonymous on March 8, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I will never forget taking theatre 101 from Prof. Willis. I was not a theatre major but that class helped broaden my world view. Always looked forward to that class and his warm, engaging humor.

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