Willie Gibson, a civic leader and trailblazer for the African-American community in Killeen, died Friday in Arlington, where he lived with family. He was 94.
Gibson, born in Beeville on Nov. 4, 1919, came to Killeen in 1955 by way of Fort Hood. When Gibson arrived at Fort Hood, the Army had only recently integrated. Before his service as a battalion sergeant major, the installation had never had an African-American as the top noncommissioned officer in a unit.
He retired from the Army as a master sergeant after 21 years of service, during which he served in World War II and the Korean War.
In the decades to follow, Gibson etched his way into Killeen’s governing body, paving the way for African-Americans to follow suit and secure roles in local government.
In 1974, Gibson was elected to the Killeen City Council, becoming the first black man to hold a high office in the city. He served on the council from 1974 to 1980 and had a hand in developing the city’s master plan. He was re-elected twice to the seat, serving the maximum three consecutive terms.
“He wasn’t elected by a district or a portion of the city; he was elected by the entire city,” Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin said Tuesday. “He was a leader — someone who everyone had confidence in. He was a pioneer. He always conducted himself in such a way that everybody who knew him was proud to say that he was their friend.”
Gibson is also credited with being one of the seven Killeenites who spearheaded the effort to charter the local NAACP chapter in 1970.
Roosevelt Huggins, past president of the NAACP, said he met Gibson in 1974 at the Killeen Masonic Lodge when he first moved to the area from Washington.
“He was a very compassionate man,” Huggins said. “He was always helping others without looking for anything in return; he was that kind of man.”
Huggins said Gibson was a “strong advocate for man-kind.”
“He had a radiant impact on this community,” Huggins said. “One of the things that I believe guided him was his conviction. He believed in the Bible and he shared that with the people around him. He was a spirit-led individual that really helped guide Killeen.”
Operated a barbershop
Gibson was also the first African-American to own and operate a barbershop in Killeen. He opened his business in 1962 following his retirement from the Army, and it stayed open until it burned down in the late 1970s. He subsequently attained his real estate license and began working with Red Carpet Realty.
Willie J. Pope Sr., who worked with Gibson for several years on committees at Marlboro Heights Missionary Baptist Church, said Gibson was “a very agreeable person.”
“He was nice, and really always treated people as he wanted to be treated,” Pope said. “He lived as a Christian man. I really enjoyed working with him.”
Wadella Heath, who also knew Gibson through the church, said he “always walked around with a smile.”
“I first came to know Brother Gibson back in 1959 or 1960, and ever since I’ve known him as an easy-going man, but he would tell you the truth about anything that you asked him about,” she said. “Willie Gibson, I would say, was a good man for the community and a good man for the church.”
Gibson was preceded in death by his wife, Katie May, who died March 4. He is survived by three daughters, Clarice Burnett, Letha Gaines and Sheri Abbey; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.
A memorial service will be held at Heritage Funeral Home in Harker Heights from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday.