Longtime Lakewood neighbor Willis Winters announced Monday that he is retiring as director of the Park and Recreation Department, where he’s spent decades improving Dallas parks.

Winters sent his resignation letter Monday afternoon to City of Dallas officials and City Council members, saying it was the hardest decision he’s ever had to make, the Dallas Morning News reported. He also thanked Park Board President Bobby Abtahi for the opportunity to enhance the quality of life in Dallas through the park system.

“I need to focus on my health, which I never had the opportunity to do,” Winters said. “That will be important to me — and to focus on my family, which has always has not gotten the attention they deserve from me.”

His final day will be Oct. 22.

Winters has served as the department’s director since January 2013. Before that, he spent 20 years as park manager and assistant director. Under his leadership, the longtime public servant helped oversee the writing of two master plans, including the 2002 A Renaissance Plan, the remaking of municipal golf courses, the expanding of the trails system, the development of Klyde Warren Park and the restoration of Fair Park.

Willis Winters. (Photo courtesy of the City of Dallas.)

The 62-year-old with a penchant for preservation has also worked to save Dallas history by stashing items — such as remnants of historic buildings and old farm equipment — in the “boneyard” in East Dallas. The site provides a space for City officials to hoard old relics until they can be reused in future projects.

Through his efforts, the department received national accreditation from the National Recreation and Park Association — an honor bestowed upon 2 percent of all the park departments across the country, according to the Morning News.

The Garland native lived in Lakewood for years, and his son, Will, attended Woodrow Wilson High School. Will died in 2005 at the age of 16 after a blood clot following foot surgery. After his death, the Dallas Park Foundation helped raise money to complete the Randall Park pavilion that Winters designed to honor his son.

Winters experienced his own health problems in 2012 and spent months recuperating from a lung infection.

“They don’t make public servants like Willis Winters anymore, which is why I am so sad about this,” Abtahi told the Morning News. “He gave his life to the city, and he is irreplaceable.”

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