Tom Willis, owner of the landmark 66 Diner in Albuquerque and charter member of the New Mexico Route 66 Association, died Wednesday. He was 71.
Sue Montgomery, vice president of the association, stated by email that “from my understanding” Willis died of COVID-19 and “had some underlying conditions that didn’t help.”
Willis would be the association’s second death from the virus; board member Johnny Plath died of it in May 2020.
Melissa Lea Beasley-Lee, president of the association, announced Willis’ death by email on Friday to its members. Willis was executive vice president at the time.
“Tom was a standing member and officer of the New Mexico Route 66 Association since its inception in 1989. He will be greatly missed by all of us at the Association,” she wrote. “We send our love and prayers to his family, friends and business associates.”
A celebration of life will be at 11 a.m. Nov. 12 at Calvary Church of Albuquerque at 4001 Osuna Road (map here).
According to Willis’ obituary, he was born in Austin, Texas, and moved to Albuquerque as a young man. He became the owner of several restaurants in Albuquerque, including a transmission shop that became the 66 Diner on Central Avenue (aka Route 66) in 1987. The spot originally was a Phillips 66 station in 1946.
Tom also appreciated all things 50’s retro: the music, the cars, the decor, and the food. He owns a couple of 1950’s automobiles. He was always on the lookout for signs and memorabilia to enhance his space on Route 66. His PEZ collection is a thing to behold. He was a long standing member and officer in the Route 66 Association.
When not working, Tom enjoyed off-road Jeeping. The steeper, rockier, gnarlier the trail, the more he enjoyed it. He also loved camping and traveling in his RV. He would go as often and as far as time would allow. He was always ready for a new adventure.
Tom was one of the good guys. Forever loved. Forever missed.
The obituary also stated: “In lieu of flowers please go out and support a local restaurant. Tell them Tom sent you.”
Condolences and cards may be sent to:
c/o New Mexico Rt 66 Association
1415 Central Ave. NE.
Albuquerque, NM 87106
(Image of the 66 Diner by James Joel via Flickr; image of the Tom Willis courtesy of the New Mexico Route 66 Association)