Remembering Jerry Willibey

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Jerry Willibey (Cullman Tribune file photo)

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CULLMAN, Ala. – “He was a pretty quiet guy. If you went into a room full of veterans and started talking to people, he’d probably be the last guy you would get to because he just wasn’t one of those guys that cares about being out front. He was just a quiet guy but a hard worker. You could always count on him.” That’s how Ken Brown remembered his friend and fellow veteran Jerry Willibey, who died Jan. 2, 2021 after battling COVID-19.

Willibey was born in 1940 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. When he finished high school, he and his family relocated to Tucson, Arizona and soon after Willibey joined the United States Air Force. He served a combat tour in Vietnam where he was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon. He earned the rank of sergeant and retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service.

When he returned from Vietnam, he was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. It was in Sacramento where he met his wife Ava, a Cullman County native.

“I was working in a bank, and a lady I worked with, her husband worked with Jerry,” said Ava Willibey. “That’s how we met.”

The couple married in 1971 and would have celebrated their 50th anniversary later this year.

After 25 years in the Air Force, Willibey began working for Lockheed Martin in its missile division. He retired from Lockheed Martin after 15 years. The Willibeys eventually moved to Alabama. 

Said Ava Willibey, “He followed me in my career. I worked for DOD (Department of Defense) and I worked at Maxwell Air Force Base for a short period of time. I then transferred to Kettering, Ohio and worked for about five years before I retired.”

When she retired, the Willibeys moved to Smith Lake then to the city of Cullman.

Willibey became an active member of Cullman’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2214. He was elected commander of the post five times and led the post to being selected as the top post in the state of Alabama.

Recalled Brown, “That was a nice distinction for him, and he got to go to the National Convention to be recognized for that. Jerry just put a lot of work in at the post and as a member there for 15-16 years. He served in a number of different positions within the post and was selected as commander five different times. He was a real stalwart down there. Commanders and their wives, it’s a big commitment in terms of time and all.”

Willibey was also a member of the Cullman Elks Lodge, where he served for five years as an officer for the executive committee, which organizes Cullman County’s Veterans Day celebration. He served as treasurer of the committee.

Brown said, “You could always count on him to do whatever project you gave him to do, assigned him to do or he decided to do. He’s one of these guys who was always involved in a lot of different projects and always giving back to the community.”

“He was able to help this year (2020). He was always willing to do anything or whatever anybody needed help with,” Ava Willibey said.

The 2020 Veterans Day Celebration was the most successful on record.

Willibey also served as president of the homeowners association of the Canterbury Gardens neighborhood where he and his wife lived. He loved the Alabama Crimson Tide, NASCAR, working in the yard and collecting coins. The Willibeys were members of Seventh Street Baptist Church, where Jerry attended regularly until his passing.

“He was a wonderful husband and family man. He was always friendly and helpful. Wherever and whoever needed help, he helped,” smiled Ava Willibey. “He was always very organized and kept our home organized and he was just a wonderful person.”

Willibey is survived by his wife Ava; daughters Lorrie Vancheri of Warrenton, Virginia and Patricia Crump of Cullman; and granddaughters Audrey and Anna Vancheri. Donations can be made in Jerry’s name to the Flag Fund at VFW Post 2214, 112 Veterans Dr. Cullman, Alabama 35055.

Willibey died Jan. 2, 2021. He was 80 years old.

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com