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story.lead_photo.caption Former President Bill Clinton delivers the eulogy Monday at the funeral of Carol D. Willis at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. Willis was a longtime aide to Clinton. - Photo by Bill Bowden

Carol Willis always had Bill Clinton's back.

"And having your back means telling things to your face that other people will only say behind your back," Clinton said. "When I was about to mess something up as governor ... he could just give me the devil in full view of God and everybody ... and I admired him for it."

The former president gave the eulogy Monday at the funeral of Willis, a longtime aide who helped Clinton organize his support among the black community in Arkansas and across the country.

Willis died Sept. 4, and Clinton's office issued a statement that day.

"From the time I entered state politics until I left the White House, he was one of my most effective and trusted campaign aides and advisors," Clinton said. "He was a brilliant political organizer who really cared about people and making sure that their voices were heard."

On Monday, Clinton spoke for 22 minutes before a crowd of almost 1,000 people in the gymnasium of Philander Smith College, where Willis earned his bachelor's degree before attending law school at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

At the beginning and end of the 3½-hour funeral, Willis' casket in front of the podium was flanked by eight men wearing black hats with a yellow insignia on the front. They were part of Willis' "Buffalo Soldiers," the nickname given to a group of black Democratic politicos who worked to get Clinton elected president in 1992.

"Bill Clinton built a bridge to the 21st century instead of building walls," said Bishop Samuel L. Green Sr., who officiated the funeral.

Immediately before Clinton spoke, Willis' granddaughter, Mika L. Cooper, delivered "a Pee-Paw tribute." That's what she called her grandfather.

She remembered him telling her: "Mika, wherever you go in life, don't think you're better than anyone else."

"And he exemplified that," she said.

She also remembered having to wear comfortable shoes on the campaign trail with her grandfather.

"We would not be sitting for long," Cooper said.

She showed a video of Willis talking about Clinton because she wanted the crowd to hear her grandfather's own voice and words regarding Clinton.

"Bill Clinton always had a unique ability to connect with black folks," Willis can be heard saying. "The first time I met Bill Clinton, I knew instinctively that he was going to be president."

Willis said Clinton had long hair and a scruffy beard and that the conservative professors didn't like him, so Willis figured there must be something good about Clinton.

The first time Clinton and Willis met was when Willis was helping Clinton organize tutoring sessions for black students at the law school, the former president said.

Clinton said Willis trusted him when he was an insecure first-year professor.

"I was scared to death, myself, teaching law school," Clinton said.

It led to a lifelong friendship.

"It was the beginning of this amazing life we've led," Clinton said.

Clinton said Willis believed "with every fiber of his being in real integration."

Carol D'Arcy Willis was born Aug. 26, 1949, in McGehee.

After earning a bachelor's degree from Philander Smith College and attending the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Willis received his law degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Referring to three of his closest black aides, Bob Nash, Rodney Slater and Willis, Clinton said they all brought something different.

"Bob makes people feel happy. Rodney makes them feel like they're in a church. Carol makes you feel like you're at a rodeo," Clinton said.

Lottie Shackelford, a former Little Rock mayor, told the crowd she remembered when Clinton was running for president in 1992. A suit was delivered for Clinton to wear at a public event, but his pants were wrinkled.

"Carol found an ironing board and was pressing those pants because he was not going to have his governor out there looking all rumpled up," Shackelford said.

In closing, Clinton said we still see through a glass darkly but that Willis sees clearly now, face to face with his Maker.

Metro on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: At funeral, Clinton remembers ex-aide's friendship, support

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