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Marathon artist strikes the right chord

In the heart of the Florida Keys, I recently discovered a hidden treasure. I was not out on Sombrero Beach with a metal detector, nor did I uncover it while snorkeling out on Looe Key reef. This treasure I found in the corridors of Stanley Switlik Elementary School.

Christopher Willis is the school guidance counselor by job title, but he is so much more. He serves as a mentor to countless students, helping them find their way to success in the classroom and in life. Honored by the Monroe County School District as a Counselor of the Year and respected by all who know him, when I first met Chris he seemed too good to be true. Then one day I saw him break out an acoustic guitar and, well, in the vernacular of the present day — “Mind BLOWN!”

Born in Naples, Florida, and having traveled over the years, living in various wonderful cities in the Sunshine State, Chris eventually met his wife Abigail, who also is a teacher, and the adventures got even better. 

“Abi just scooped me up and married me before dragging me kicking and screaming down here to the Florida Keys where she’d been raised,” Willis said, laughing. His love affair with both Abi and this little chain of islands cannot be more obvious. For the past seven years, the Willis family has called Marathon home while raising their young son Sky (who is quite a talented artist in his own right). 

“I love to travel and I love to build things,” Willis said. “I’ve built a couple cigar box (ukuleles) and I’m currently working on an upright bass made from found materials. I also love running, sailing, rowing and, of course, music.” 

Willis has been playing guitar for nearly three decades and the music he composes only adds to his seemingly endless list of positives. He thanks his father for introducing him to music. Chris said the first song he learned to play was “Stairway to Heaven.” Those fortunate enough to see him performing at local Keys venues know his stellar skills on guitar are bested only by his rich vocals and heart-touching lyrics. He pens songs that clarify his attachment to both philosophy and religion, subjects he studied at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Later he earned a master’s from Florida Atlantic University. 

Chris performs on occasion, mostly for enjoyment and for personal growth, and he freely shares his music via YouTube. He composes continuously, too, sometimes completing several new songs a week. His songs inspire young and old with messages of hope, perseverance, friendship and, most importantly, love.

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