She was a familiar face in the Laurel community for many years, easily recognizable by her bright smile and friendly greeting to all she met.
But a brief illness brought the life of Frances Wilhoit to an abrupt end on Sunday, September 1, leaving her many family and friends saddened by the loss.
Wilhoit was the station manager of WFTG-AM and its fellow FM radio stations - The Wolf 1400, SAM 103.9, and Kool Gold 96.7 - for many years and remained with the station in the advertising sales position until an illness and a stroke in late August. Wilhoit was rehabilitating at Hillcrest Nursing Home in south Laurel County at the time of her death.
Bridgett Turner worked with Wilhoit for 11 years. Turner said she had many memories of Wilhoit over the years and was deeply saddened to hear of her health issues and death.
"Of the 11 years I worked with Frances, she rarely missed a day and never took a vacation. She was a lady of extreme perseverance, loyalty and strength. She lived her life as such and set an example we should all learn from. I will miss her," Turner said.
Terry Forcht, owner of Forcht Broadcasting, which owns the London radio stations, was a close friend of Wilhoit's and also paid tribute to her dedication and strict work ethic.
"Frances was with us as long as we've owned the radio station(s)," he said. "She was very energetic and very inspirational. She had a good mind, was a good businesswoman."
Forcht said Wilhoit had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and then suffered a stroke.
"Her mind was very clear until the very end. She had a stroke and was looking at some growths in her lungs. They were looking at a procedure to contradict the growths so she was battling from both ends," Forcht said.
He also credited Wilhoit's strong work ethic.
"She and I were the same age and shared many of the same memories," he added. "She was a good woman and I'd call her early every morning and we'd go over what was going on that day."
Wilhoit was honored earlier this year as one of the London's Living Treasures, which recognizes leaders in the community who have had an impact on the area.
A native of Laurel County, Wilhoit was raised in the Pittsburg/East Bernstadt section of the county and graduated from Hazel Green High School where she was a cheerleader.
She moved to Louisville and landed a job at Citizen's Fidelity Bank until she married Ronald Wilhoit and moved back to London. The couple had two sons - Roger and Tim - who survive.
Although she was a stay-at-home mom for several years, when younger son Tim turned 4 years old, Wilhoit returned to work, starting at Second National Bank (now Cumberland Valley Bank and Trust). Two years later, she began working at Begley Drug where she did bookkeeping and ran the soda fountain. She also ran the dining room of the London Country Club.
It was during her time at Begley Drug that Wilhoit began working on getting her real estate license and after accomplishing that goal, she joined with Gene Evans at the Ray Reams Realty in 1980.
Twelve years later, she joined Forcht Broadcasting as station manager and remained there until her death. Wilhoit served as station manager until 2008, then remained on staff in the advertising sales division of the local radio stations.
Her wide range of accomplishments and rapport with the community earned her the nomination and selection for the London Living Treasures - an honor for which she was extremely proud and humble. She continued to emphasize the importance of working and, according to Forcht, expressed a desire to return to work even as she recuperated at the nursing home last week.
"We both had the same belief of getting out and working every day - and she did, right until the very end," Forcht said.
Wilhoit's visitation is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at Bowling Funeral Home and the funeral service will be at noon.