FORT MILL – Thomas “Don” Willingham, 79, passed away peacefully on the evening of January 2, 2018 at Novant Medical Center in Matthews, surrounded by his loving family, following a short struggle with pancreatic cancer. Don was born in Cleveland, OH on January 27, 1938, but was raised in York, SC.
He is survived by his loving wife of 53 years, Julia E. Whitworth Willingham and his daughter Julie R. Willingham Cunnane and husband Lance of Charlotte, NC, as well as his two grandchildren that he loved dearly, Maria J. and Daniel L. Cunnane. He is also survived by his brother Charles R. Willingham and wife Nancy of Hickory, NC, and his sister Jacquelyn “Jackie” Willingham Becknell, of Rock Hill, SC, as well as six nieces and nephews.
Don attended York High School where he earned a letter in football. He went on to study Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University and began his career as a draftsman at Pneumafil. Later he worked as Chief Design Engineer for Retreading Equipment. In 1974, Don established General Fabricators, Inc. of Rock Hill, which he owned and operated for over 25 years. During his career he enjoyed many honors such as holding a US Patent and being a member of the US Nuclear Society of Engineers.
Along the way he made many friends with whom he spent happy times on hunting and fishing trips out West and in Alaska. He would often share his bounty during Friday cookouts at his plant with his employees, businesse associates, and friends.
Don was a loving husband and beloved father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. His fun loving spirit will truly be missed. He lived by example, teaching generosity, respect and hard work. Rest In Peace, “Papa Don.” We will never forget you.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Rebecca Willingham Moore, his father, Thomas Lawton Willingham, Jr., his infant brother, Lawrence Duncan Willingham, and beloved nephew Michael Ray Becknell. Don was the grandson of Dr. TL Willingham, Sr., retired minister from Park Baptist Church, Rock Hill, SC.
The family will receive friends at Greene Funeral Home Northwest Chapel, 2133 Ebenezer Road, Rock Hill, SC 29732 on Friday (tonight) from 5:30 to 7 pm. A private burial service will be followed by a Memorial Service for family and friends at 3 PM on Sunday, January 7, 2018 with Rev. Randy McSpaddon and Rev. Carson Overstreet officiating at Van Wyck Presbyterian Church, 5140 Old Hickory Road, Lancaster, SC 29720.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Van Wyck Presbyterian Church, PO Box 68, Van Wyck, SC 29744 or Novant Hospice, 324 North McDowell Street, Charlotte, NC 28204. Memories and condolences may be shared at greenefuneralhome.net.
The family wishes to express deep gratitude to the medical staff of Novant Medical Center Matthews, Drs. Lim, Patel and Bandarupalli and the staff of Novant Hospice Care for providing compassionate and professional care to Don.