Kirby Godsey, Mercer University's chancellor, said Gillis' desire to improve rural health care drove his support for the medical school, which state funds helped start. Its initial mission was to offer primary care to underserved parts of the state.
"The majority of those thousands of graduates do serve in the underserved areas," Godsey told The Telegraph of Macon. "More of Mercer's medical school graduates remain to serve the people of Georgia than those of any other medical school in Georgia, including the public schools."
Godsey said Gillis served on the medical school's board of governors for about 30 years.
The Regional Medical Technology Center at Southeastern Technical College in Vidalia was named in his honor.
Upon Gillis' retirement, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue named him to the board of the Georgia Ports Authority.
"He was a great friend to the entire state, but particularly had his hand on some great things in east central Georgia that helped so many people have the opportunity for a better life," said Dubose Porter, a former state lawmaker who serves as CEO of The Courier Herald.
A funeral service was scheduled for Friday at the First Baptist Church of Soperton with burial to follow at a family cemetery in Treutlen County.