County mourns loss of longtime DCS employee

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By Dwane Wilder

Friends and co-workers of China Willoughby lamented her loss Tuesday afternoon at the Campbell County Department of Children’s Services.

Willoughby, the senior secretary in the LaFollette office, passed away Monday at the age of 85 following a brief illness. She continued to work full-time when most people her age had long since retired and was within one month of logging 65 years with the state.

Willoughby was described as a real people person by those who knew her best.

“She loved this job. She loved working with the people,” said DCS team coordinator Pam Becker, who was associated with Willoughby and Campbell County DCS for 30 years.

“I don’t think she ever met a stranger. She made everyone feel like they’ve been here forever. There will never be another one like her.”

DCS secretary Nancy Chapman, who worked the past 11 years alongside Willoughby in the LaFollette office, remembers her positive outlook.

“She was always such a positive person,” said Chapman.

Willoughby graduated from LaFollette High School in 1949 and in September 1952 began working her career with the State of Tennessee as a junior stenographer transcribing shorthand on a manual typewriter.

Willoughby was an active member of the LaFollette Chapter of Business and Professional Women for more than 50 years. In 2013 she was named grand marshal of the Campbell County Christmas Parade.

Eddie Carroll, placement specialist with Campbell County DCS, said Willoughby had a hug for everyone and a desk drawer full of sweets for her friends. Carroll said Willoughby’s reputation for hospitality was legendary. He said anytime state officials were in the neighborhood, they would insist on stopping by to chat with China.

“The news of China Willoughby’s death is sad,” said State Sen. Ken Yager. “We have all lost a good friend. China cared about people because she had a heart as big as Campbell County. Her endearing smile and cheerful disposition will serve as our legacy to remember her by.”

In 2002, when Willoughby was recognized for 50 years of service, she said “I hope in some ways I’ve helped to make life a little better for someone or a child.”

Donna Valandingham, DCS team leader, was Willoughby’s supervisor the past 10 years and worked with her even longer than that.

“I could write a book on how much she meant and what a great loss her passing is for her work family. We all love her, and she loved us,” said Valandingham. “I don’t know that there are enough words to express just how much she meant. We all at DCS have so many great memories of China. She was always the ray of sunshine that greeted us with her beautiful smile, kind words of encouragement and loving heart. She not only cared about us, but was the pillar that supported us that made work more enjoyable. She made such a difference in so many lives. She loved everyone and everyone loved her. She will be greatly missed. She definitely was one of a kind and had such a wealth of knowledge about the child welfare system. If the world loved like China did, if the world cared as much as China did, and if the world was as kind and giving as China was, what a much better place it would be. A true icon not only at DCS, but in the community. She came to work every day to make a difference in someone’s life, to help someone in need. She taught us all so much, and she will never know the influence she had in all our lives. Her love for God showed in everything she did. If a co-worker was having a bad day or going through a difficult time, she didn’t hesitate to stop and pray with them right there at her desk. She was one of God’s angels on earth. Sent to help those in need, and that is what she did every day.”

Willoughby was a member of Fincastle United Methodist Church.

She is survived by sister, Martha Ann Willoughby; niece, Tammy Taylor and her husband, James; nephew, Michael Willoughby; great niece, Angie Owens and her husband, Mark; and great-great niece, Mazkenzie Owens.

A receiving of friends and funeral service were held Wednesday evening at Walters Funeral Home Chapel with the Rev. Steve Evans officiating. Family and friends will meet today (Thursday) at 10:30 a.m. at Walters Funeral Home and proceed to Fincastle Cemetery for a graveside service and interment.

Online condolences for Ms. China may be made at www.waltersfuneralhome.net.