Willie was born to Sanford Jacobs and Lucile (Sellers) Jacobs in 1947, in Arlington, GA, delivered by a midwife – his great grandmother – Mary Jane Jacobs. Willie, his sister Geneva, and parents lived in Georgia for a time and then moved to Alabama. While residing in Alabama, Willie had to repeat the 3rd grade, due to skipping school, and his mother – who firmly believed in choices and consequences – suggested to Willie’s teacher that he be retained. While many would consider this a considerable set-back and a point of shame, Willie freely shared that this experience resulted in a major paradigm shift to his pursuit of academic excellence; and, from that year forward, Willie became a straight-A student.
Willie’s family ultimately moved to Jacksonville, Florida and this is where he completed elementary school at S.P. Livingston. Moving to Jacksonville, a much larger city than rural Pheonix City, Alabama, Willie was faced with bullying for the first time. When Willie shared this challenging period in his life, he explained that he was a little different from most kids, because he wasn’t willing to simply accept being bullied without fighting back. Therefore, whenever someone tried to take his lunch money, he fought…and as he would tell his children, “Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost, but refusing to fight and just hand my money over, simply wasn’t an option for me.” Willie’s father taught him, “You don’t antagonize another man, and if he allows you to walk away from a fight then you do so. However, if he won’t allow you to walk away then you finish it.” Thus, Willie was well-known for quelling any form of intimidation tactic, even on the behalf of others, and it was such adversities as these which shaped Willie’s character as a fighter – a fierce protector of the underdog, faithful friend and leader.
Throughout middle school, Willie was singularly focused on academics. However, after discovering weightlifting in high school, and developing into a toned 160 pounds, he caught the attention of the football coaches at Stanton Vocational High School. While completing his course schedule, to include gym class, Willie was informed by one of his coaches that he had to take gym as the last class of the day, thus ensuring he had to play football. He sent Willie home with a physical form, which his father refused to sign, because he thought football to be a ‘dumb’ sport. (Willie’s father, Sanford Jacobs, was an exceptionally talented center field baseball player who formerly played for Negro-league teams.) However, Willie’s mother Lucile signed the form, and this singular decision resulted in a future marked by athletic excellence as well – as an all-city right guard and highly regarded line-backer.
His mother Lucile worked hard and long hours to provide for her two children. Therefore, Willie – as the oldest – became responsible for ensuring his little-sister ‘Nev’ was in the house by the time the streetlights came on, and as with all responsibilities placed into his care, he took this responsibility seriously. When asked to share the moment of greatest impact upon his life, Willie would hauntingly recount the day, when in the 11th grade he went to find his father; and, after doing so, he spent the entire day with him. Willie would recount, “I’ll never forget that day because [my dad] sat me down and specifically mentioned that I was responsible for my mom and sister if something ever happened to him…He’d be killed the next day in a car accident and my life would never be the same.”
Willie was nearly destroyed by the sudden, tragic loss of his father, whom he loved for his patient manner and was in awe of his mathematical aptitude (which defied his 10th grade education) and his athletic abilities. Willie would speak of the painfully complicated grief he experienced in the months following his father’s accident, as he would sit at the window in his room in the Blodgett Homes of downtown Jacksonville – where he, his mom and sister resided – and stare out at the street, imagining his father would eventually return. Willie even spoke of the violent anger which overcame him on one occasion. It was following this unfortunate incident that one of his teachers, Mrs. Davis – whom he credited as saving him from the near-destructive path, sending him to sit on the school steps to calm down and wait for her to join him – said to him, “Willie, I know you may not like what I’m about to say, but I think you need to hear this. Your daddy was meant to leave here so you’d go do what you have to do. Willie, if your daddy had lived you would have never left Jacksonville and you need to leave here to make something of yourself, so you can provide for your mother and you sister.” Willie always ended the recounting of his conversation with Mrs. Davis on that fateful day by saying, “And she was probably right.”
Willie went on to be valedictorian of the graduating class of 1967 at Stanton Vocational High School (also known as Old Stanton). In the months prior, one of Willie’s mentors – Mr. Mosley – took Willie to Florida A & M University (FAMU) for the Orange and Green Game. Jake Gaither, renown head coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers football team, waved to him, asking him to come down out of the stands onto the field. Coach Gaither chatted with Willie about his grades, told Willie he would be looking for him in the fall, and Willie was issued his scholarship that day. Several days after Willie’s high school graduation, he awoke to someone knocking on his family’s front door. It was a coach from FAMU, and he asked Willie if he was ready to go, if he had packed his belongings. Willie quickly went to do so, all he had fitting into one bag; and, as he went into the living room in search of his mother and sister, Willie found the $20 bill his mother left for him on the coffee table. Willie had shared a distinctly close relationship with his mother and sister, thus they often referred to themselves as “the three amigos.” Because it was always just them, Willie understood that his mother was simply unable to say good-bye. Therefore, she took his sister and left that morning. As he would say, “No one made a fuss about me leaving…it was just another day. For me, that’s how my childhood ended…”
The Measure of A Man:
Willie played football for Coach Gaither for two years, but he ultimately chose to leave the football team after delivering a near fatal blow to a teammate during practice. Given Willie’s exemplary character, and his stellar performance in the classroom as well, Coach Gaither honored his commitment to Willie to ensure his college education. Therefore, Coach Gaither ensured the balance of Willie’s education was funded in conjunction with his standing academic scholarship. Willie, who began his post-secondary academic career as an architecture major, was unsuccessful – even with the great effort expended by the university – to secure the required internship within any of the Caucasian-owned, local architectural firms during those late 1960’s. Therefore, ultimately Willie had to change his major and graduated with a B.S. in Trades & Industrial Education: Building Construction from the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. Willie became an integral part of FAMU history though, as a member of the final graduating class to receive training in this area of expertise at the university. A major aspect of his considerable training being architectural drafting by hand, as his education preceded the advent of computer-aided design – a masterful skill set which would distinguish him among his colleagues in the future.
In Willie’s senior year at FAMU, while completing an internship at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, FL, he was introduced to a freshman, and knock-out Aretha-Franklin-look-alike, Gloria Howell, while visiting the dorm room of a former Stanton Vocational classmate. It was love at first sight for them both! As fate would have it, Willie would ultimately conclude his graduate-level studies at the University of Florida with a Master of Education Administration & Supervision and the beautiful, brilliant social studies education major – (the former) Ms. Gloria Howell – as his wife. Willie began his career as the Dean of Boys at Gainesville High School during the height of school desegregation, where his fighting spirit would be a major asset during some extremely turbulent times in our history. Nonetheless, Willie became the beloved “Dean Jacobs,” and he was well respected throughout the community by all. During his tenure at Gainesville High School, Willie also started a weight-lifting team which he led to state victory – several of the team members ironically were his wife’s nephews. True to the spirit of excellence Willie developed, he cultivated this same culture as a coach to these young men – demanding academic excellence in the classroom first. If their grades did not meet this standard, they were not allowed to lift, and many work-out sessions began with homework and/or tutoring. While Dean at Gainesville High School, Willie could often be found in the commons area at lunchtime, surrounded by the young men who revered him as their mentor. Many individuals looking upon this scene never realizing how shy Willie was. Willie would humbly share in recounting these days, “I don’t know why those boys would all congregate around me, I wasn’t saying much, mainly I was just listening to them.” Willie was indeed both a great listener and excellent advisor though.
Willie’s Lasting Legacy:
Later in his career, Willie would transition into higher education, becoming a college instructor at Pensacola Junior College teaching building construction trades, followed by a fifteen-year tenure as an engineer at Bellsouth Communications, prior to becoming a licensed building contractor and starting his own building construction company, Brankol Enterprises, Inc. – which specialized in design, renovation and remodeling services. As President of Brankol Enterprises, Willie was a leader in the field of construction. He was a member of the NE Florida Builders Association and Florida Association of Home Inspectors. Due to his utter love of building construction and design, as well as teaching and mentoring, Willie facilitated the City of Jacksonville Youth Build Program in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, serving as an instructor. He established contracts with the City of Jacksonville, renovating several homes in the historic Springfield area near downtown Jacksonville. In addition, Willie developed the plan, construction budget and lot pricing for the proposed forty-one-unit subdivision known as Smith Pointe, located on the northside of Jacksonville, FL.
Following the crash of the real estate & construction market in the early 2000’s, Willie made the decision to accept a position at Florida State Community College at Jacksonville to ensure continued provision for the family he adored – which would later include the relocation of his aging mother and baby sister following the loss of her eyesight. Ultimately, Willie was named Senior Plant Supervisor for the north campus, and during his fifteen year tenure in this role, Willie would supervise 28 employees; manage inventory and property for 700,000 square feet of buildings on the 160-acre campus; and have oversight of all renovation and remodeling projects on the campus – to include a 9.5 million dollar renovation project of three buildings, a $90,000 installation of water lines for a new sprinkler system, and his most notable accomplishment – upgrading and modernizing the chiller plant system through his recommendation of installing the phenomenally energy efficient, McQuay frictionless chiller system. This considerable recommendation resulted in the reduction of the campus electrical usage by 519,514 kWh within the first six months!
Willie was always a visionary — from his dream of securing expansive acreage on which he could build the home that would serve as sanctuary for his family for 30 years to the key role he played in the redesign and expansion of the (now) Florida State College at Jacksonville. It was the careful review of such accomplishments which moved the gentlemen of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. (Gamma Mu Omega chapter) to extend the fellowship of honorary brotherhood to Willie in 2021. While Willie’s life was marked by many accomplishments, he still considered the greatest of these to be the love, provision for and protection of his family which he always made his priority. He more than kept the promise he made to his father at sixteen years of age. Willie was humble, loyal, dependable, a genuine friend, gentleman, and simply kind – living true to the creeds he taught his children: “All you really have in this world is God, your family, and your good name. So, always do what you say you’re going to do” and “If you have the ability to help someone, why not do it?”
Willie leaves to treasure his lasting legacy: his doting mother, Lucile Walker; his devoted wife, Gloria (Howell) Jacobs; half-sister, Catha Milliard; children: Robin (Alberto) Abbott, Karla (Wendell) Charles, Kandice (Quentin) Robinson and Brandon (Stephanie) Jacobs; sisters-and-brothers in love: Novella Strawder, Barbara Jefferson, Willie Mae Griffin, Rosa Lee Bryant, Renee Howell and Johnny (Ola) Howell; aunts: Erma (Leon) Todd, Bettye (Freddie) Sumner, Verdene Webb, Maggie Williams and Lorene Fuller; uncles: Fred Sellers, Leonard Turner, Theopolis (Barbara) Wakefield and Warnell Wakefield; nieces and nephews: LaTashia (Willie) Gibson, Cheyenne Townsend, Robert (Mary) Strawder, William (Mary) Strawder, Pamela (Thomas) Garcia, Valerie (Willie) Littles, Ira (Meshell) Strawder, Toni Rollins, Karen (Jeffrey) Hunter, Angela Wyche, Terri Hymes, D’Eitra (Michael) Brown, Willie Bryant, Rudolph Bryant, Cheryl (Sugar Ray) Smith, Robert Jackson Jr., Tonya Jackson, Rena Jackson, Barron Williams, John Howell Jr., Darius (Antoinette) Howell, Katrina Howell, Keisha (Jermaine) Davis, Brittney (Antoine) Fisher, Jimmy (Lori) Howell, Ira (Jacklean) Howell, a host of great nieces and great nephews; numerous cousins; children in the Lord: Titus Hill, Nicola Gibson, Rashell Lewis and Diamond-Renee Fisher; sisters-and-brothers in Christ – especially Bro. Todd Smith, Bro. Alfred Brown and Bro. Ronald Cuthpert; and beloved classmates and special friends – especially, Hermeyone (Bruce) Walker, Ruby Pough, Gladys Pough, Morris Berry, Francis (Luisa) Scott Key, Samuel (Mary) Byrd, Willie (Ethyl) Guinyard, Moses (Velma) Bethea, Oscar Walker and Dr. Alfred (Deborah) Boateng. Willie was preceded in death by his father, Sanford Jacobs; his “baby sister,” Geneva Ford; uncle, John Jacobs; brothers-in-love, Jimmy Howell and Wille Bryant Sr.; and niece, Tina John.
In Deepest Appreciation:
Willie’s family is especially grateful for the exemplary, compassionate care rendered by Raphael Tito Balbino, MD and the Baptist AgeWell Center for Health staff throughout his disease process; in his final days, the Duval and Clay County Community Hospice & Palliative Care personnel and the exceptional nursing staff at the Hadlow Center – Community Hospice & Palliative Care; the kind show of support rendered to Willie by Elders Charlie McClendon & Acie Sanders, Minister Al Jackson and all of our brothers and sister-in-Christ of the Northside & Arlington Road Churches of Christ; as well as the brotherly love extended by Iota Phi Theta, Inc.: International Grand Polaris Sean D. Housen Sr., Mario Riley, Nelson McCoy, Deven Bruner and Brandon Foy.
While humanly our hearts break because of the physical separation, we rejoice that Willie has been set free from the shadow of sadness & confusion cast upon him by Alzheimer’s disease. We can smile through our tears, assured that his amazing mind has been restored and find encouragement in the assurance that Willie has been reunited with his LORD & Savior – who created him as a gift to us all – but always loved him best.
The visitation for Willie will take place on Friday, May 20, 2022 from 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM at the Northside Church of Christ – 4736 Avenue B, Jacksonville, FL 32209, and the celebration of life for Willie will occur on Saturday, May 21, 2022 at 10:00 AM also at the Northside Church of Christ. Family members and close family friends who wish to participate in the processional are asked to please report to the church building by 9:30 AM, in preparation for procession into the sanctuary, which will begin promptly at 9:45 AM. For those who are unable to attend Willie’s service in-person, you may visit the Northside Church of Christ YouTube page and wait for the livestream to begin just prior to 10:00 AM. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly asks that memorial donations be made in Willie’s honor to the Alzheimer’s Association and Community Hospice & Palliative Care.
Published by Ponte Vedra Valley Funeral Home – Ponte Vedra Beach from May 16 to May 17, 2022.