Willa M. (Smallwood) Bruce

Willa M. (Smallwood) Bruce

August 22, 1938 – January 4, 2020


Dr. Willa Marie Bruce, 81, of Omaha, a former Kayser Professor of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, passed away peacefully January 4, 2020 after a long illness.  She is survived by her husband, Dr. James Walton Blackburn; sons, Dr. Robert “Bo” Bruce (Marianne Pascale) and Joseph M. Bruce (Carol); and grandson, Robby Bruce.  She was preceded in death by her late husband, Robert B. Bruce; and son, Josh Bruce.

Willa was born August 22, 1938 in Huntington, WV to Inez (Lunsford) Smallwood and Frank Smallwood.  She graduated from Marshall University, Huntington, WV in 1960 and became an English teacher, then later a Social Worker in rural West Virginia.  Following her husband, Robert’s untimely death Willa returned to school where she earned her Ph.D., and three Master’s degrees while also raising three young sons as a single mom.  She started at UNO in 1985 and has a distinguished academic career authoring four books and over fifty refereed articles while also being an acclaimed teacher.

Willa was a woman of great faith.  Raised a Southern Baptist, her spiritual journey led her to explore many different versions of Christianity and after her retirement she became a Licensed Local Pastor for the United Methodist Church.  Willa’s faith in God was an unshakeable rock that helped her weather the storms of life.

Willa leaves behind a legacy of faith, service and love that serves as an inspiration to all those whose lives she touched.

VISITATION: Monday, January 13th from 1pm to 2pm, at the West Center Chapel followed by a FUNERAL SERVICE at 2pm.  In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to Boys Town.




  • Carol Posted January 10, 2020 3:58 pm

    Miss you Willa, Mom (Mother In-law) and God Mother. I am praying for our family during this time of loss and uncertainty. Mom your praying for our family peace and strength and for us to know we are never alone. Thanks Mom for all your encouragement and faith in each of your family members. Willa I know you will continue to support your family with your infinite faith in God and each of us! As you join the Heavenly Realm, I know you join Donna (my Mom), your beloved people: Mother (Inez), Bob, your dear friend Ellen your Gramps and the rest of your family and friends that previously departed us and this earth. Mom you are now without pain and can be at peace! I love you and miss you Carol

  • Madaline L Williams Posted January 11, 2020 12:10 pm

    Bo, I’m sure you don’t remember me but I worked at the library when you did and only met your mother once but always have remembered her. So sorry for your loss.

  • Dianne Cosgrove Posted January 17, 2020 7:59 pm

    Dear Walt and Family of Willa. The entire family of “Momma Jane” Majorek (Eden Way, Douglas Cty Health Ctr) extends our deepest sympathy to you in the loss of your dear wife, mother and grandmother. We trust that she is rejoicing with her Lord, healed and whole. May your cherished memories give you great comfort until you are united once again. Most Sincerely, Dianne Cosgrove, for my Dad Rich, Momma Jane, and all our Family

  • Juliana Baliva Posted February 22, 2020 3:19 pm

    I have just heard of Willa’s death. I am o sorry for your loss. She was such an inspiration to many people. I was so blessed to have her as a dear friend and mentor while she was in the Chatham/Springfield, Il . area. I missed her so when she moved. I was blessed to visit her last July. I’m so glad I did.

  • Ellen Duxon Posted February 22, 2020 7:24 pm

    She was a dear woman.

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