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Ben C. Willis Addresses and Article

 Collection — Box: 1817
Identifier: MSS 2008-022

Scope and Contents

Addresses delivered by former Florida Circuit Judge Ben C. Willis and an article written by Willis for the Florida Heritage Foundation News and Views. These materials are useful to researchers studying Tallahassee life during the 1930s. According to Lee Willis, these addresses were probably given at the Exchange Club in Tallahassee, which met at the Cherokee Hotel until it closed.

Includes MSS 2008-021.


  • Created: 1972, 1986


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to quote, publish, broadcast or otherwise reproduce from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Florida State University Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical or Historical Information

Ben C. Willis, Florida's longest-reigning chief circuit judge, was born in Quincy, FL, October 7, 1913. According to his son, Lee Willis, he attended Emory University for his freshman year but transferred to the University of Florida Law School in 1936, his sophomore year, where it took him five years to get the LLB Degree.

He first practiced law in Tallahassee (FL) with the firm of Waller and Pepper, whose partners were Claude Pepper, later U.S. Senator, and Curtis L. Waller, who became a U.S. District and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge. Willis practiced with this firm until 1942. He then went into partnership with James Messer Jr., but late that same year he was inducted into the U.S. Army. After serving three and one-half years as a soldier, Willis returned to Tallahassee and resumed his career. In 1957, he was appointed by Florida Governor LeRoy Collins to serve on the Second Judicial Circuit Court bench. According to Lee Willis, his father "particularly enjoyed riding the circuit and holding court in Apalachicola, Crawfordville, Monticello and Quincy, and "had a real connection with each of these communities."

When he was in private practice, Ben Willis was active in politics and in community activities, including serving for a time on the Leon County School Board. He also served as one of Governor LeRoy Collins' legal advisors during his political campaigns. campaigns. Lee Willis felt that "he was also a model father and family member and was honest and loyal in everything he did."

After serving 27 years as chief circuit judge, Willis retired in 1984. During his tenure, he lived through the civil-rights cases of the 1960s, witnessed the beginnings of free legal services for indigents who might be sentenced to jail terms, the speedy-trial requirement, and the Miranda decision, which provided that persons charged with a criminal offense must be advised of their rights before taken into custody. He also saw a complete restructuring of the trial court system, in which the circuit court took on many more responsibilities. He recalled when rulings of trial judges become less final as appeals became more routine, and remembered the first woman juror to serve in Franklin County (FL), at a time when women served only voluntarily, rather than being called from the general voter pool.

Ben Willis died at age 78 on February 1 ,1991.


3.00 items (3 Folders)

0 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Method of Acquisition

Given by Mr. and Mrs. Lee Willis, Tallahassee, Florida.

Processing Information

Processed by Burt Altman in October 2008.

Ben C. Willis Addresses and Article
Burt Altman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Repository

116 Honors Way
PO Box 3062047
Tallahassee FL 32306-2047 US