BBQ fest honors John Willingham - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

BBQ fest honors John Willingham

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The 2013 Memphis In May BBQ festival is a bitter sweet one for the family of John Willingham, a man whose name is synonymous with Memphis barbeque.

Mr. Willingham passed away Wednesday with his family by his bedside after suffering for years with congestive heart failure. Sunday would have been his 81st birthday.

This weekend's festival was going to be a special one for Willingham, who had fought 14 years for a Memphis In May first.

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With their father no longer with them, Willingham's daughters Kara Wilbanks and Karla Tempelton are carrying out the family's BBQ tradition.

"We have a lot to celebrate," Wilbanks said. "We're so proud of dad and each other and our team members and how they've all just come together. At a very difficult time, it's made it a whole lot easier."

This year, Willingham's World Champion BBQ is available for purchase for anyone who walks through the gates at the festival. It's the first time in the cooking contest's 36 years a team has been allowed to sell food to guests.

"After 14 years, dad tried to make this happen," Templeton said. "He tried to get Memphis In May to understand the people are paying to come in and taste the barbeque."

"We're the only team that's out here this year, as a trial to see if it's going work for next year for everyone to be able to vend," Wilbanks added.

Willingham's daughters say people can taste their food for as little as $3. This was their dad's dream to make the BBQ fest experience more enjoyable for everyone, not just people associated with the teams.

"It's for the patrons and for all the other teams," Templeton said. "So if we can open this door and be successful, then Memphis In May can see that this is the right thing to do. I just would have let him be alive to see it. But he's watching, I know."

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