Bill Willis, known as Poppa to his grandchildren, had always been a National Football League trailblazer and was challenged during the period of segregated football. His family life outside of the game was rarely shared. Set in Columbus, Ohio during the month of July, Poppa’s Ring provides a quick glimpse into the more personal life of Bill as a hands-on father, grandfather and role model. He exemplified positive values, good manners, and striving for excellence in every aspect of your character and life.
Although legendary to football enthusiasts, Bill was a role model to his children, grandchildren and many other youngsters. He was the tall, gentle, giant who cooked and allowed his grandchildren to help. He shared stories of his life’s experiences. He educated them on birds and how to play chess. He posed questions to challenge their curiosity and intellect and imparted knowledge on the importance of an education. He also stressed the importance of keeping your word. His sense of humor resulted in sounds of laughter from his grandchildren. Among many things, he leaves a legacy of being a good communicator and the importance of family relationships.
Bill’s lifelong partner and wife of 55 years, Odessa Willis, also stressed and reinforced Bill’s values with their grandchildren. Nana, as Odessa was called by her grandchildren, was Bill’s greatest fan and cheerleader. When the Willis grandchildren were all together visiting their grandparents in Columbus, Ohio, Nana was constantly taking their pictures for her photo albums. She made sure that their favorite foods were in the house. She extended this same hospitality to all visitors in their home.
Both she and Poppa were sports fans. They would sit in the breezeway of their home watching different sporting events and their favorite programs on television. If they were not in the breezeway, they could be found enjoying nature outside their living room picture window. They shared their knowledge of birds with their grandchildren.
Nana and Poppa loved their grandchildren and took pride in their unique personalities. When their youngest granddaughter, Imani, loses Poppa’s NFL ring, it provided an opportunity for Nana to share some football history with her grandchildren and the importance of the ring to Poppa. This history lesson included Poppa’s football success at East High School, The Ohio State University, and with the Cleveland Browns. It also highlighted some of the challenges Poppa encountered during the integration of football.
In order for the children to find Poppa’s ring, Imani had to tell the truth about how the ring was lost. Poppa’s Ring emphasizes the importance of telling the truth and the importance of using good observations to solve problems.