Gregory

December 5, 1948 ~ August 3, 2020

Born in: Santa Monica, CA
Resided in: Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

On August 3, 2020, Gregory Blair Willis, Sr. passed away peacefully at his home with his family after a long battle with cancer. He was 71 years old.

Greg was born on December 5, 1948 in Santa Monica, California. He was educated at UCLA where he earned his Bachelor’s degree and two Master’s degrees – in Business and Philosophy. He had a passion for education and spent his retirement years studying art history, horticulture, and foreign languages.

Shortly after college he met his wife, Cathy, in Santa Barbara. They married in 1975 and spend 45 years devoted to each other and their family. Together they raised three children, Greg, Robert, and Victoria. They lived in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

Greg spent over 25 years in a variety of executive positions at Toyota in Southern California. After leaving Toyota, he started his own international auto part supplier firm and eventually retired in 2008.

Athletics were always a constant in his life. Growing up, he was a talented youth swimmer and water polo player, eventually swimming for UCLA. After college, he took up running and competed in over 30 marathons, including New York and Boston. His favorite was the LA Marathon where he was honored as a “Legacy Runner” for completing the first 10 LA Marathons. He also completed various “Ironman” races and eventually started (with his swimming friends) the Los Angeles Peninsula Swim Team (“LAPS”) in 1995 – a master’s swim team that is still going strong. Greg was a nationally ranked swimmer and competed in numerous national and world competitions. He loved swimming and loved competing.

But what he loved most was introducing his kids to sports. He coached soccer teams, took them to swim practice, and attended all their meets. He loved watching them swim, play water polo, and compete in all their athletic events.

As a family, Greg and all his children would routinely compete in the “Pier-to-Pier” swim race – a two mile swim from the Hermosa Pier to Manhattan Beach Pier. Greg would always place in the top tier of his age group – and sometimes beat his kids. The Pier-to-Pier swim was a family tradition.

Greg lived life to the fullest, embracing every challenge and turning obstacles into opportunities. He didn’t just see the glass as “half-full,” for him it was overflowing with possibilities. He could always find the silver lining in any situation and would always push those around him to achieve their absolute highest potential. He was well known for his sage advice, quick wit, and thoughtful conversation. He loved to travel, was constantly learning, and loved a good martini. But most of all he loved spending time with his friends and family. He will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him.

He is survived by his devoted wife Cathy, three children- Gregory (Melissa), Robert (Tracy), and Victoria (Brett). He was blessed to have 8 grandchildren: Katherine, Gregory, Charlie, Claire, Sally, Theodore, Elliott, and Everett. He will be missed by his siblings Robert (Margaret), Deborah Ibbott (Anthony) and their families.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Foundation for Oral-facial Rehabilitation https://www.ffofr.org/donate/ Greg became involved with this organization following his treatment for oral cancer 20 years ago. He became a member of the Board of Directors and appeared in a short video, Second Chances, which appears on their website.

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  1. Greg was always so friendly. Every time we saw him across the street, he would always make time to talk & ask how we were doing. He would always offer us help when he saw we were struggling to fix something around the house. We will always remember him & he will be greatly missed. We offer our sincere condolences to the family.

  2. I am so sorry to hear of Greg’s passing. He was a great friend to me and a tremendous father.

    We definitely need more men like him in this world.

  3. candle 4Sorry to hear of the passing of a kind gentleman and friend. Fond memories during our days of swimming in and around PV. Condolences to the family.
    Patricia (Trish) Soto.

  4. candle 7The world isn’t as good as it was before Greg’s passing. Greg was truly one of the best who makes everyone else better because he was in their lives. We all wanted to be like Greg. He was a tremendous contributor to Toyota, and a valued colleague, but he knew how to balance work and life recognizing the priority of family early enough to enjoy a rich and fulfilling life. Greg was my motivator in the pool always chasing him as he passed me lap after lap. His positive energy and love of his family made me see my own failings. Thanks Greg, you left your mark on so many of us that you touched, and you made us all better.

  5. Greg was a kind man and a true gentleman. He was a great help to me when I was at REI (now the Lundquist Institute). He was a spirited supporter of the SPPY Swim team too. He was always thoughtful and enjoyed talking about his beautiful wife and children. Family meant so much to him and I am truly sad for your loss. He will be missed.

  6. Greg touched countless lives, all for the better. We lost a bright light and a guiding star, but his legacy will shine for many many years.
    Cathy, Greg, Rob and Torie, you’re in our prayers.
    Greg, we miss you but you are not forgotten.

  7. The whole Keese Family is sad with the passing of this great, wonderful man that we had the pleasure of swimming with at the Kramer Club for years.
    I watched him as a father and as a grandfather and your family is very lucky to have had him in your family.
    Not every family is as lucky to have a dad, husband and grandfather as loving as Greg Willis.
    Dee Keese and family

  8. Dearest Cathy and Family,
    I am so sorry to hear about Greg, and my heart and blessings reach out to your loving family.
    With love,
    Gail Warner

  9. As others have mentioned, Greg was I huge contributor to Toyota N America. I was one of the Toyota Associates passing out water and snacks to the LA Marathon runners. My condolences to the entire Family that will mourn his passing. but please find comfort and confidence, To be absent of the physical body is to be present with the Lord! 2 Cor 5:8. He is now with everyone else who’ve crossed over to the other side and are waiting for all of us to eventually reunite with them and he is walking on streets if gold. Sincerely Kim Fulks-TFS

  10. candle 1Greg was a true gentleman. He touched many with his soft-spoken kindness and sense of humor. The pride and adoration he had for his family was always evident. My sincerest condolences to Cathy, his children and grandchildren.

    • It was mentioned that Greg ran 30 Marathons. Not only did we work together at Toyota for a long time, we trained together, and ran in many of those same events. Greg was a gentleman but had the spirit of a warrior. He was my “friend” and continues to run with me in this marathon called “life”.

  11. Sad to hear of Greg’s passing. Yes, a true friend. Knew him thru Master’s swimming since ’95. Kept in touch via email.

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