HON. WILLIS DUFF PIERCY.
Prominent among Jefferson county's most gifted and notable citizens is Hon. Willis Duff Piercy, author, orator, scholar, editor of the Daily and Weekly News of Mt. Vernon, representative from the Forty-sixth district to the Illinois state legislature, and Southern Illinois representative of the Charles E. Merrill Company of New York City, publishers of school and college text books. Mr. Piercy is widely and favorably known as a gentleman of high character, as well as unusual attainments, and his influence in the community has been marked and salutary.
The birth of Mr. Piercy occurred April 28, 1874, in Hamilton county, Illinois, his father being Dr. Sherwood Piercy, a native of Jefferson county and a son of Anderson Piercy of North Carolina who came as one of the pioneers to Jefferson county and helped pave the way for subsequent civilization. Dr. Piercy practiced medicine in Hamilton county and then in Jefferson county, the period of his career as a practitioner covering thirty-four years of signal usefulness. He died March 21, 1906, at the age of sixty-nine. He was always actively interested in Democratic politics; was a life-long Mason and a member of the Methodist Episcopal church. He married Mary Mangrum, who survives and makes her home with her son, the subject of this review, and with her daughters. These worthy people reared a family of five children to maturity, namely: Mrs. M. N. Corn, Carlinville, Illinois; Mrs. J. C. Jones, of Birch Tree, Missouri; the subject; Mrs. Clarence E. Danner, of Jefferson county; and Mrs. (Dr.) R. R. Smith, of Mt. Vernon.
Mr. Piercy received his early education in the common schools of his native county and then entered Ewing College, where he pursued his studies from 1891 to 1892. Some years later he matriculated in McKendree College, at Lebanon, Illinois, where he was a student from 1896 to 1901, in the latter year receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He and his wife went through college together, after they were married. Mr. Piercy saving the money for their education from his salary as country teacher. Mrs. Piercy received her degree of Bachelor of Arts in the year following that of her husband (1902). Mr. Piercy had previously been engaged in educational work, his first work as an instructor being in the common schools of Jefferson county (three years), and one year in the Mt. Vernon high school. In the fall of 1901 he went to Greenville, Illinois, as superintendent of the city schools and served in that capacity until the spring of 1903. In the ensuing fall he entered Harvard University, and in the spring of 1904 was granted the degree of Master of Arts from that institution in the department of English. Previously, while teaching school in Jefferson county, he had read law and had passed the bar examinations, being admitted to the bar in 1895. He served as private secretary to Congressman M. D. Foster of the Twenty-third district of Illinois, from March 4, 1907, to March 4, 1909, and resided in Washington, D. C., during the winter of 1907-08. His connection with the Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, of New York City, had dated from a time several years previous and he had represented this concern for some three years. In 1908, upon his return from the national capital, he again became associated with the Merrill Company and still retains his connection with it in the capacity of representative for Southern Illinois.
The fact that Mr. Piercy had gained the confidence and admiration of the community in which he is best known is by no means difficult of
explanation, and nothing could have been more appropriate than his election, in the fall of 1910, as representative from the Forty-sixth district to the lower house of the state assembly. He is now serving his first term and has given “a taste of his quality,” which has abundantly proved the wisdom of his constituents and which makes subsequent political preferment a logical outcome. He was by no means a figurehead at Springfield in one of the most important sessions of the assembly, matching swords with Lee O'Neil Browne in the arena of debate, to the discomfiture of that politician. He was instrumental in killing Browne's “Libel Bill,” working strenuously and speaking effectively against a measure which he believed pernicious in the extreme. In fact, he was credited by the St. Louis Republic and several other journals as having himself dealt the death blow to the bill. His address against the bill was published throughout the United States and made for him more than a state-wide reputation in a day. In April, 1912, the Democrats of the Forty-sixth senatorial district, comprising the counties of Jefferson, Wayne, Richland and Jasper, nominated Mr. Piercy as their candidate for state senator, without opposition.
He became connected with the Daily News as editor in January, 1910, and is a creditable representative of the Fourth Estate. This sheet is owned and published by a stock company, Dr. Walter Watson being president and J. J. Baker, secretary, treasurer and general manager. It was established in 1871 as a weekly and in 1891 a daily edition was inaugurated, the circulation being at the present time 2,800. It is the official Democratic organ of Jefferson county and is an effective one, and it is the only Democratic paper in the county. The daily paper is an eight page, six column sheet, and the weekly is the same size. It is not only remarkably newsy, but stands an enlightened moulder of public opinion, its editorials being uniformly well conceived.
Mr. Piercy was married April 3, 1895, to Miss Eulalia Whitson, of Jefferson county, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L. B. Whitson and their charming and cultured home is shared by a daughter, Helen Whitson, aged eight years.
Mr. Piercy is affiliated with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and with the Knights of Pythias. It is as an orator and platform speaker, perhaps, that Mr. Piercy is best known, and has been “nicknamed” “the Silver-tongued Orator of Egypt.” He is the author of a number of publications, such as “Death and Its Sorrow,” published by the Neale Publishing Company, (N. Y., 1908) ; “Great Inventions and Discoveries,” intended as supplementary reading or library book for school children, and published by the Charles E. Merrill Company of New York. For the past five years he has been a member of the Mt. Vernon township high school board of education and he has served as a member of the city public library board. In whatever capacity he has served his fellow men it has been with credit to himself and honor and profit to the people.