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SPJ remembers Bob Wills, past president and FOI champion


Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists mourns the death of Bob Wills, 95, who served as our national president from 1986-87.

Wills, a longtime editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel, was a champion of open government. He created SPJ’s Project Watchdog, a First Amendment public education program, which he promoted around the country. He died Thursday in Madison, Wisconsin.

“Bob Wills’ passion for journalism and the public’s right to know permeated each tribute I read about him,” said SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall. “I’m proud to stand on his shoulders as SPJ president, and I’m grateful for his efforts to hold the government accountable, to promote women in newsrooms and to make journalism stronger, story by story. His career of service is a testament to his regard for reporting and a model for us all to emulate.”

Born in Colfax, Illinois, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University after serving in the U.S. Navy. He worked at the Duluth Herald and News-Tribune before joining The Milwaukee Journal as a reporter in 1951. He later served as assistant city editor at The Journal, city editor and editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel and executive vice president of Journal Sentinel Inc. He retired in 1993, two years before the newspapers merged into the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wills was a strong proponent of government transparency and was a founder of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and its first president from 1979 to 1986. He also served as president of the Milwaukee Chapter of SPJ and on the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Board of Directors from 1993 to 1996. The Milwaukee Chapter gave him its Newsman of the Year Award in 1973. The chapter later renamed its Freedom of Information award the Robert H. Wills Freedom of Information Award.

He was a president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Associated Press, and in 2001, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Wills was preceded in death by his wife, Cherie. They have three sons, Bob, Ken and Mike, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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