William Donald “Don” Gillis, Sr. passed away on July 25th, 2019 after a long term illness. He was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 31, 1935 to Norman and Ellen Gillis.
Don is survived by his sister: Quida Phillips of Corpus Christi, TX; his son: William Donald “Donny” Gillis, Jr. of Houston, TX; daughter: Gaylynn (Tom) Wheat of Corpus Christi; granddaughters: Alexis Gillis of Austin, TX and Hailey Gillis of Memphis, TN as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. He was married to, Joan Ryba, who survives him.
Don was preceded in death by his parents: Norman and Ellen Gillis; brother: James Norman Gillis, Jr.; niece: Marquita Phillips Simpson and nephew: James Norman Gillis III.
Don spent his early years working and helping out with the family cotton farm on the outskirts of Corpus Christi- he attended Elementary, Junior High and High School in the West Oso School District. Besides being an avid hunter and fisherman, Don was a gifted athlete. He could pick up a bat, tennis racquet, golf club, baseball, basketball and play really well, but it was the game of football that truly showcased his athletic prowess.
He played high school football for the West Oso Bears, helping the team travel to several District 3A championships. After graduating from West Oso High School in 1953, Don went on to play for the Del Mar College Vikings in Corpus Christi, TX, during the years when the Vikings were a local powerhouse football team, being named to the Junior All American Team in 1954 and 1955. In 1956, Don received an athletic scholarship to Rice University, where he played center for the Rice Owls, coached by Jess Neely, winning the Southwest Conference Championship in 1957 and playing Navy in the 1958 Cotton Bowl.
After graduating from Rice University in 1958, Don was drafted to the NFL and played two seasons for the Chicago Cardinals then played center for two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 1963, after his time in the NFL, Don returned to Texas and began a successful sales career with McMurray Oil Company becoming VP of International Sales and was based in Singapore, where he traveled extensively throughout the Far and Middle East. While in Singapore, Don along with members of the Singapore American Community Action Council, started the Singapore American Youth Football League, bringing American Football to the small island country, creating a new sports program that would resonate with young people far from home. Don served as the League’s first Commissioner from 1974-1975.
Don returned to the U.S. in 1977 and settled in Houston, working at Galveston-Houston Company until his retirement in 1990. He then returned to Corpus Christi to spend time with his family and community. He loved babysitting his young grandchildren and was an active member of West Heights Baptist Church.
Don was never too busy to help anyone, especially if there were home repairs needed, cars to fix, lawns mowed, a leaky roof- no task was too great or too small- or a shoulder to cry on- he was especially great at cheering up, telling stories that would leave a person helpless with laughter and forgetting (at least for a couple of minutes) why he-/she was upset in the first place! This was one of his greatest gifts!
In 2002, Don married Joan Ryba and together they traveled the world, having some wonderful times and great adventures.
Sadly, in 2009, Don was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia (attributed to concussions sustained while in the NFL) which eventually claimed his life- but up until his last months, his eyes would light up when he saw a loves one coming by to visit and sit with him- he truly loved his wife and family!
A Visitation will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Friday, August 2 at Seaside Funeral Home Chapel. Funeral Services will be held at 1:00 p.m. that same day. Interment to follow at Seaside Memorial Park.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations can be made in memory of Don to: Concussion Legacy Foundation (at concussionfoundation.org)
Concussion Legacy Foundation
361 Newbury Street, 5th Floor, Boston MA 02115