Jack Willey, whose “Item One” column in The Dispatch gave readers an inside view of central Ohio’s most influential people and intriguing stories during the 1980s and ’90s, has died.
Willey, who passed away on Wednesday, was 66. He’d battled a number of illnesses for the past several years, said Sherri L. Palmer, his longtime partner in work and life.
She had come to know him first the way that so many others did: by reading his column.
“He loved this town,” said Palmer, 60. He had “endless support and passion for Columbus.”
Willey grew up in Greenville in western Ohio. He had a talent with words, and a talent for dealing with people, that drew him to journalism, said his sister, Terri Ashby, 56, of Middletown, Ohio.
He attended Wright State University and the University of Maryland before landing a job in 1967 with his hometown newspaper, The Daily Advocate. He came to The Dispatch in 1971 after a stint with theDayton Daily News.
Willey left in 1977 for the business world and served for a time as the manager of Westland Mall. But it was his return to The Dispatch in 1981 and the beginning of “Item One” that helped make him a local celebrity.
“It was one of the most widely read features in the paper,” said state Rep. Michael F. Curtin, a Democrat from Marble Cliff and former editor and associate publisher of The Dispatch. “He was colorful, and he loved that role.”
A typical Willey column featured four or five items of sometimes gossipy news from the area — two movers and shakers irritated with each other, a restaurant opening, a note about some national celebrity seen around.
He left journalism in 1995, and he and Palmer worked together in public relations and event planning for years afterward.
Willey also is survived by a brother. A celebration of his life is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. April 13 at the Boathouse at Confluence Park, 679 W. Spring St., Downtown.