The Sydney Mail Weekly recorded on August 1, 1923, the death of Thomas Francis Willis, age 66 years, known throughout the country as "Milroy"of the Sydney Mail.
It is noted that the Mail had seen the last of its veteran staff writer, a giant in build, who was one of the most remarkable and picturesque members of literary and sporting circles.
He was well known and will be remembered in many parts of Australia particularly in New South Wales and Queensland.
Tom Willis was born in Mudgee in 1857, being the son of John Willis and his wife Margaret Lehane. His father came from Parramatta to Mudgee, where he established himself as a blacksmith and veterinary farrier in the West Inn a growing business section of the town.
In this area were five hotels, at least three stores, a flour mill and a saddlery business. The Willis family lived on a property at the rear of the premises owned by Messrs Kelly and Guest.
Tom's father sold the blacksmithing business to G Hume and then left for San Francisco. He died in the United States.
Tom's early life was spent far from any educational facility. He was never in school for even one day. His mother gave him a simple education.
He was always a good reader, and studied works written by Dickens and Thackeray. Assisting in his father's blacksmith shop fostered his interest in horses.
As a teenager he was entrusted with the delivery, from near Mudgee, of some blood stock to Mount Cornish station in Central Queensland.
This venture as a youth began 20 years of rambling over New South Wales and Queensland particularly in its West and North which gave him a fund of knowledge that proved invaluable in his later career as a journalist. It created many friendships that remained until his end.
Naturally his love of horses which commenced assisting in his father blacksmith shop turned his attention to horse racing. He trained and raced his own horses successfully for many years.
On one occasion he travelled over 600 miles from meeting to meeting with a horse called Speculation winning all along the line. Altogether he won sixty races with him including the Challenge Cup at Randwick.
Tom soon became a competent judge of the fine points of a race horse. He sought the why and wherefore, and this lead him to study the horse from a breeder's point of view.
Never satisfied with superficial knowledge, he pursued his enquiries and research as he became a recognised authority. Thus his knowledge was sought by owners who were intent of winning fame on the turf.
His admiration for a man who raced good horses made him a strong friend of James McGill. During their association on turf matters the royal blues of the McGill stable had a phenomenal run of success. McGill knowing of Toms knowledge of breeding asked him to select a mate for his mare Oliver Branch.
Acting on Tom's advice he sent his mare to Grafton and the result was Fitzgrafton, the greatest race horse Queensland ever had.
Whilst in Charters Towers, Tom married Amy Stacey. In 1897 Tom and his wife went to live in Sydney where he joined the Sydney Mail. For the next 26 years he wrote sporting article under the name "Milroy". His circle of readers extended all over Australia.
"Milroy" rarely missed attending the Annual Bligh Cup races at Mudgee, which often gave him the opportunity to attend the local horse stables in the district, including Turee. Widden, Havilah, Birganbil, Binnia and others.
Thomas Francis Willis, died on 28 July, 1923. At the time his daughter Lillian was 37 years and his son Norman, a sports writer, 35 years of age. Another son Sergt-Major William Keith Willis died of wounds in France in 1918.
A brother, William Nicholas was a member of the State Parliament for Bourke 1887 to 1894 and for Barwon from 1895 to 1904.