Rita Ann Willoughby was born to Rudolph and Lois (Sudduth) Garcia on October 27, 1949, in Lawton, Oklahoma. Rita was the youngest of four siblings. She would later become Rita Ann Lyons after she was legally adopted by her stepfather, John Michael Lyons. She attended school at Lawton High and graduated with the class of 1967. She married Jim Willoughby on March 27, 1975, with whom she celebrated 46 years of marriage. Together, they raised two daughters, Tracie and Cristy.
After graduation, Rita pursued a vocation in the legal field and was a legal secretary for several local attorneys. In 1979, Rita and Jim started “Willoughby’s Western Wear Store” in Lawton, Oklahoma. Together they grew their business and later expanded to add “Southwest Farm and Ranch” (a feed supply store).
In 1977, Rita began attending Cameron Baptist Church. It was here that she heard the Gospel of Jesus. Her eyes were opened to the reality that Christ, who is God in the flesh, came to earth and lived a sinless life. He willingly laid His life down for all of humanity. He was crucified on a cross and took the punishment for our sins upon Himself. And though He was buried in a tomb, He rose again on the third day – defeating death forever. By God’s grace, Rita placed her faith in Christ and was born again. As Rita’s heart was transformed, she began to share Christ with others. She taught many ladies and youth Sunday school classes, as well as one-on-one mentorship. She later taught at PWOC (Protestant Woman of the Chapel) and the International Ladies Bible studies (at First Baptist Church) every Tuesday morning. She was passionate about teaching scripture to these ladies, and grew to love them deeply, forming life-long friendships from these classes that spanned decades.
Rita later volunteered at the Pregnancy Resource Center in Lawton, Oklahoma, and in 1996 was asked to serve as the Executive Director. She worked with many volunteers each week who wanted to put their love for others into action. She was a fierce advocate for pre-born babies and was not just focused on coming alongside and meeting the physical needs of the families, but also was determined to share the Gospel (eternal and lasting) hope with every client who came through their doors. She was also passionate about helping women heal from the pain of pregnancy loss and those who have experienced the trauma of abortion. Never a fan of the idea of retirement, Rita served at the PRC right up until a few weeks before her passing. She lived out the verses “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?”-Proverbs 24:11, and “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” -Proverbs 31:8-9.
Rita and Jim shared many wonderful memories with their grandchildren. They enjoyed family camping trips, home visits from grandchildren, and taking their grandsons to cross country dirt bike races. Jim and Rita were lovingly referred to as “Nannie and Bop Bop,” titles that were also used by the grandkids’ racing buddies and friends. In addition, Rita spent many hours taking her granddaughters to gymnastic lessons, dance lessons, and – over the past two years – her youngest granddaughter, Lucy, to horse riding lessons every week. She loved investing time in her grandchildren and cherished watching them learn new skills and expand their interests.
Rita passed away on August 22, 2021, after a brief, unexpected illness. She was 71 years old. She was preceded in death by her grandparents, parents, parents-in-law, her step-daughter, Tracie Willoughby-Gilley, two siblings and their spouses. She leaves behind her husband Jim Willoughby of the home, her daughter Cristy Taylor and husband Kent Taylor of Lawton, OK;
eight grandchildren and their spouses: Hudson Taylor and wife Taylor Gray Taylor of Louisville, KY, Grayson Taylor and wife Renae Taylor of Lawton, OK, Isaiah Gilley of Norman, OK, Harrison Taylor, Piper Taylor, Lucy Taylor, Jackson Taylor, and Dawson Taylor all of Lawton, OK. She was also blessed with one beautiful great-grandson, Asher Taylor. She is also survived by one aunt, several cousins, as well as several nieces and nephews.
Rita will be missed by not just family and friends, but also many who are still advocating and fighting on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves—the pre-born children and their families. We are so grateful for her love for Jesus and her family, and devotion to the unborn, and are grateful for the time we were blessed with her.
A Celebration of Life Service will be held on Saturday, September 18th at 10 am at First Baptist East, 3302 SE Lee Blvd, Lawton, OK.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Rita Ann Willoughby, please visit our floral store.