Danny Williams, president of the rodeo committee, said he knew Willey since he was a boy growing up in Brawley.
Williams would grow up to serve with Willey on the rodeo committee. She was known as a "first generation" on the board because she had been a founding member.
"She put her heart and soul into the Cattle Call Rodeo," Williams said. "Up until a year ago she never missed a meeting."
He added, "She spoke her mind and she got the job done."
Willey's son Al Kalin said Cattle Call meant a lot to his mother.
He recalled that one year when he was on duty in the National Guard, his mother called a congressman to lobby for Kalin to be released from duty just long enough to attend Cattle Call events.
"She was very proud of the rodeo," Kalin said.
He added she became deeply involved in the Valley not to receive pats on the back for her efforts, but because she wanted to see the Valley improve.
"She totally enjoyed being a part of the Valley," Kalin said.
Local farmer Larry Fleming worked closely with Willey on ag issues. The two traveled to Washington, D.C, together to lobby the government not to place a 160-acre limitation on farmers in the Valley.
It was a battle they, and others working on that issue, won.
Fleming said Tuesday, "The Imperial Valley was a special place for her. She fought hard to make it a better place for her family and all of us to live."
He added, "She devoted herself nearly full-time for a few years to see it the integrity of our water rights stayed in force."
Bill Brandt, owner of Brandt Cattle Co. in Brawley and one of the owners of Brawley Beef LLC, the beef-processing plant on the verge of opening in Brawley, said he saw Willey on Sunday.
"My comment to her was that she was a true warrior," Brandt said, adding she fought for what she believed in.
Brandt joked that he was glad that they were on the same sides of the battles in which Willey became involved.
"She did what was right for the Valley," Brandt said.
When asked what he thought the Valley meant to her, Brandt said, "This was part of her life. She was a pioneer. This is where everything was for her."
While those who knew Willey described her as a fighter, they said she was a true friend.
"It's a real loss," Fleming said. "She was a very dear friend. It's a tremendous loss for myself and for the Valley."
Rutherford added, "The Valley is going to be missing a great lady who devoted her life's efforts to the betterment of the Valley and to the people who call this place home."
>>Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.