Wills’ Death Shocks Little Rock Ad Community

Family Will Decide Future of Arkansas’ Second-Largest Agency
DALLAS–Friends and industry colleagues of Ed “Watty” Wills were at a loss to explain why the 42-year-old Little Rock, Ark., agency owner and president apparently took his life earlier this month.
They were not, however, lacking in awe over the work ethic and philanthropy of a Little Rock native who took over his father’s small agency in 1985 to build Frank J. Wills Co. into Arkansas’ second-largest shop. “It’s hard to stay in this business and not make enemies, but I have to tell you that I never heard a negative thing about Watty Wills,” said Gary Heathcott, president and owner of Little Rock shop Heathcott Associates.
Wills was found dead in his Little Rock-area home on July 6 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Little Rock police spokesman Lt. John Hutchinson said last week authorities were still awaiting autopsy results.
Wills was best known for his work with Little Rock-area charities, according to friend Jim Penick, a Little Rock attorney. Wills was an avid duck hunter and University of Arkansas Razorbacks athletics fan, known to frequently take clients to games, said Penick.
He was also a driven worker, said friends and colleagues, putting in an average of 14 hours a day at the agency. But those close to him said they saw no signs of trouble in the weeks preceding his death.
His body was found hours after Wills had called Penick to pick up a package at his residence. When Penick arrived, he found four notes with “instructions,” Penick said. “He was suicidal at that time,” said Penick, who notified authorities.
The future of the family-owned Frank J. Wills agency was still being determined last week. Penick, acting as trustee, plus two current and former Frank J. Wills employees comprise a management committee running the shop in the interim.
Frank J. Wills official Bill Pascal said the employees at the 40-person agency are maintaining a focus on accounts to deal with the shock of losing Wills.
Pascal said he believes the $25 million agency will remain in business: “There’s been no decision [on closing], but that is not the desire and wishes of the family, the desire and wishes of the staff and the desire and wishes of the clients.”
Survivors include Wills’ mother, Jean Wills, sister Kathleen Chandler and brothers David Wills and Frank Wills III. –Glen Fes