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Tribute to Willo

Vale Jeff Willis

Monday, September 25, 2017

They say from little things big things grow and so it was with the Wynnum Bugs Rugby Union Club. The Bugs existence can be mapped back to a 7 year old boy, Evan, announcing to his father Jeff “Willo” Willis that he “wanted to play the game that they play at Ballymore”.

On finding out that Wynnum did not have a rugby club, Jeff went to work with the Queensland Rugby Union and the local community and in 1979 the Bugs fielded two junior teams. Jeff was coach, actually Jeff was basically everything from president down, and with his wife Pam they worked tirelessly to establish the club.

Willo called in a favour from Eastwood, a Sydney premier club who he played 1st grade halfback for years earlier, and the baby Bugs of ‘79 would play in borrowed jerseys that would form the basis for the Wynnum colours.

It is now folklore how the Bugs were originally going to be the mud crabs – but Redlands (who started at the same time) laid claim to that name. So was born Willo’s “Wynnum Bugs” – a name that is now as synonymous with the bayside as the Seagulls are in rugby league.

It all happened again in 1989 when a group of former Iona students, led by Paul Davey, approached Jeff to form an under 19s (colts) team, which Willo would coach. So would start the Bugs seniors, with Willo going on to coach Wynnum’s first open age team in 1990. Following his playing years, Davey would go on to coach the Bugs 1st grade for 11 seasons with Jeff regularly by his side as a mentor or team manager.

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Sadly Jeff passed away earlier this month after a battle with cancer aged 74 years and his funeral was held at the Wynnum Bugs club house with hundreds attending his farewell. Many of the 1989 Bugs colts were on hand, with many stories about Willo swapped on the “Willis Deck”, which was so named earlier this year in honour of the Willis family’s contribution to the club.

Jeff is survived by wife Pam and sons Ben and Evan and their families. Jeff is also survived by the 500-plus juniors and seniors currently playing for the Wynnum Bugs, as well as the thousands who have played, or will play, for the club.

Willo will be remembered for his love of life, his cheeky grin, his passion for rugby (and a rum and a cigar) and his legacy as Wynnum’s founding life member and including being awarded an Australian Sports Medal.

But for those who were coached by Jeff he will be remembered as the Bugs’ father in every sense of the word. He will never be forgotten.

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