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Bill Leighman "Willie" Ghent

November 14, 1947 January 24, 2024
Bill Leighman "Willie" Ghent
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Obituary for Bill Leighman "Willie" Ghent

Harrisburg business owner and community leader Bill Leighman Ghent, Jr., 76, died on January 24, 2024, surrounded by several of his long-time friends and his beloved dog, Sully. He is survived by a son, Bill Leighman Ghent, III, of Washington, D.C., and was preceded in death by his wife, Linda, in 2017.


Bill, known as “Willie” to his friends and family, was born on November 14, 1947, in Harrisburg, Illinois, to the late Bill, Sr., and Lorine Ghent. A graduate of Harrisburg High School in 1965, Bill married Linda in 1967 before graduating from Parsons College in Iowa in 1969. After graduation, Bill first worked as a history teacher and later as a principal in Cairo schools before moving back to Harrisburg.


After his father’s death in 1973, Bill took over the family’s insurance brokerage, Bill Ghent Inc. Almost $200,000 in debt at the time of his father’s passing, Bill worked to bring the agency into profitability and became one of the region’s most respected business leaders and insurance agents.


One of his favorite insurance sayings was, “Don’t spend a cent until you see Bill Ghent,” and his red truck was always first on the scene after an accident to reassure his clients that they would be okay.


His love of Harrisburg eventually led him to run for the school board in 1976, where he served for a total of 12 years, eight of them as president. During his tenure, Bill oversaw the consolidation of the city’s grade schools and the development of East and West Side schools. Despite entreaties, Bill never ran for public office again, but he mentored community leaders through the rest of his life and served as a touchstone to his son, who became a senior political aide in Washington.


His pride in and his devotion to Harrisburg was never more apparent than in 2012, when the city was hit by a devastating tornado. With several of his clients homeless or facing extensive repairs, Bill worked tirelessly to help his community and his friends rebuild. As he told the New York Times, “The truth is, we’re used to taking cover by now, one way or the other. What people don’t understand is you just make it out, just make it done.”


The same could be said of Bill himself, who faced multiple health challenges throughout his life, especially after losing Linda in a fatal car crash in 2017. With the help of family and friends, Bill worked to put himself back together again, defying expectations just as he had done many times before.


Visitation will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Harrisburg, where Bill was a member, on Friday, February 9, from 4 to 7 pm. The funeral will be Saturday, February 10, at 11 am at the First United Methodist Church with Pastor Lynette Barnette officiating. Arrangements in care of the J. M. Weirauch Funeral Home in Harrisburg, Illinois.



In lieu of flowers, family asks that donations be made to the 4 Cs food pantry in Harrisburg (4cshbg.org) or to St. Francis Animal Care of Murphysboro (stfrancis-care.org).


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Previous Events

Visitation

Friday

9

Feb

4:00 PM 2/9/2024 4:00:00 PM - 7:00 PM 2/9/2024 7:00:00 PM
Harrisburg First United Methodist Church

West Poplar St.
Harrisburg, IL 62946

Harrisburg First United Methodist Church
West Poplar St. Harrisburg 62946 IL
United States

Service

Saturday

10

Feb

11:00 AM 2/10/2024 11:00:00 AM
Harrisburg First United Methodist Church

West Poplar St.
Harrisburg, IL 62946

Harrisburg First United Methodist Church
West Poplar St. Harrisburg 62946 IL
United States

Memorial Contribution

St. Francis Animal Care of Murphysboro

4 C's Food Pantry

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