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Friends remember late owner of Dairy Queen
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Forsyth County News


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CUMMING — It didn’t matter where the meeting was. If Wyatt Willingham was attending, everyone knew there would be food.

The longtime businessman and owner of Dairy Queen in downtown Cumming died Tuesday. He was 62.

Funeral services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday in the chapel of Ingram Funeral Home, with interment following at Sawnee View Memorial Gardens.

Willingham was on the board of directors — as well as being a founding organizer — of Citizens Bank-Forsyth County and became close friends with Tim Perry, its president and CEO.

Perry recounted being unsure 18 years ago whether he wanted to leave his job at the local bank until he showed up for a board meeting. Willingham had brought a bag of slaw dogs.

“I knew then I was hooked,” Perry said. “It didn’t matter if there was a meeting on his boat or in our chairman’s office. If [Wyatt] was going to be there, he would always bring food.”

Willingham’s family opened the first commercial fast-food chain in Cumming more than 45 years ago. And unlike almost every other chain that was around back then, he later chose to remain downtown instead of moving the business closer to Ga. 400.

Willingham’s sons, Jay and Ben, now run the businesses, with their mother, Judy, overseeing day-to-day operations.

“Anyone who knew [Willingham] knew him as Dilly Bar [an ice cream bar and DQ favorite],” Perry said. “I think everyone who grew up here or has lived here for any period of time has Dairy Queen memories … Wyatt would always make it a point to come out and hand out the ice cream.”

Jim Otwell, owner of Andean Chevrolet, remembered his friend as a fellow Daytona 500 enthusiast and collector of old cars.

“When their family moved down here, his father was staying at my grandmother’s house before they were able to find a place, so I first saw him when he was 9 or 10 years old,” Otwell said. “He was always willing to help charities in need of food or anything. He was very giving.

“It’s a great loss because they furnished quite a few jobs over the years. You’d see the same faces over the years. It means a lot that he had a business that provided jobs.”

Perry mirrored Otwell’s sentiment.

“Losing somebody like him is like losing an institution in the city of Cumming,” he said. “He employed a lot of people. He helped a lot of people. He’s been an asset to this community. He will be sorely missed."