Dr. James C. Willis, Sr. Biography 1865-1942


Dr. James C. Willis, Sr. was born on his family’s plantation in Claiborne Parish in 1865.  After a private education, Dr. Willis went to the newly created Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and graduated from its medical school in 1889.  Dr. Willis returned to Homer, Louisiana to begin his career.  In 1904, he moved to Shreveport and later joined with J.E. Knighton, Sr. in private practice, but also became Chief of Staff of Schumpert Sanitarium.  

In 1928, the two doctors built the Willis-Knighton Clinic next to the Tri-State Sanitarium and in 1929 purchased the hospital changing it's name to Tri-State Hospital.  Specializing in general surgery, Willis studied at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  During the hunt by American troops for the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa, Willis became chief surgeon at the military hospital in Brownsville, Texas.  Later he became president of Shreveport and Louisiana Medical Society as well as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. 

Tri-State Hospital and the Willis Knighton Clinic became very much a family affair with his son, James C., Jr. joining in father in practice while another son, Robert E., was assistant business manager of the hospital.  His second wife, Em Gehlen, would later become Director of Nursing at the Tri-State Hospital School of Nursing.  Despite, his busy schedule of medical, civic and church responsibilities, Willis found time to follow another calling, “fishing”.  Though he often deep sea fished, his favorite pastime was to fly fish for bass on local lakes.

Dr. Willis passed away in 1942.

Location in Museum

Talbot Museum Digital Collection


  • James Clinton Willis Sr. Circa 1930
  • The_Times_Tue__Apr_22__1941_ Willis and Knighton at La Medical Society Meeting 1941