Obituary: William Wesley Combs Jr. July 20, 1929 – Dec. 10, 2020

WILLIAM WESLEY COMBS July 20, 1929 – Dec. 10, 2020

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved father, William Wesley Combs, Jr., who died on December 10, 2020 from COVID-19. He was 91.

The anguish we feel about his passing is difficult to describe. He was not a young man, but he was taken from us too soon. He still had things to do and to say.

But we choose to remember his remarkable life and character. Bill Combs was born on July 20, 1929 in Northeastern Mississippi (Houston) and raised in Raymond and Inverness. He graduated as Valedictorian from Inverness High School in 1947, and from the University of Mississippi in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts (English and Greek), also at the top of his class.

Drafted into the armed services during the Korean conflict, he served in the Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, where he taught fellow GIs how to dispatch and schedule trains, and how to avoid head-on collisions.

During this time, he went on a blind date and met and later married the love of his life, Marie Estelle Clark. He attended Harvard University, earning a master’s and PhD in English literature. He taught at Duke University from 1958-1962, and later at Western Michigan University. He served as a Fulbright professor at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland from 1970-1971. He retired from WMU in 1995.

Those of you who knew and loved Bill Combs will agree that he was kind, loquacious, eccentric and attentive to family and friends. He was also a gifted storyteller and poet of context – abilities shaped by a boyhood and adolescence in the Mississippi Delta. It was there that he developed a unique ability to analyze both the joys and injustices of the American South. While at the University of Mississippi, he actively opposed the segregationist States’ Rights Party. Later in Durham, North Carolina he picketed segregated movie theaters and businesses with other civil rights activists. Although the racism he encountered ultimately exiled him from the South, he maintained a deep connection to the stories and lives of people there.

Bill and Marie Combs loved and supported their daughters; both parents had a profound influence on their lives. Sarah pursued a career in musical theater and secondary education in New York City and the Hudson Valley. Mary Carol obtained a doctorate degree in education and is a professor at the University of Arizona.

Bill Combs was preceded in death by his parents, Mary Hetty Newell and William Wesley Combs, his sister, Mary Combs Kersey, and his wife Marie C. Combs (1930-2018).

He is survived by his daughters Mary Carol Combs (Amilcar Diaz) and Sarah Alden Combs (Rich Conley), his grandchildren, Jamie Roderick, Claudia Diaz-Combs, Sarah Maria Diaz-Combs, his sister Sarah Grace Kelly, sisters-in-law Carolyn Hatcher and Anne Cain and numerous beloved nieces and nephews.

We are deeply grateful to the special care staff at Friendship Village for their love and care of our father. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Loaves and Fishes. (kzoolf.org) Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a celebration of his life will be held when we are able to join together safely.

William Wesley Combs Jr.

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