Born in 1912 in Gorham, N.H., Willey graduated from Danvers High in 1929 and from the Salem Hospital School of Nursing in 1935. She lived in Salem most of her life, more than 40 years on Oak Street.
She was active at Wesley United Methodist Church, volunteering at church fairs and bean suppers. As a hobby, she made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, according to her obituary. Dolls she made and antique ones she collected are on display at Salem Hospital.
"She was a very kind, loving person," said Mary Tremblay of Salem, a former night supervisor and colleague at Salem Hospital.
"She was very frugal. In her lifetime, she never owned a car. She always walked to work."
Neighbors often saw her out in her yard raking or weeding.
"She was a sweetheart," said Jim Quinlivan, who gave her rides to medical appointments. "She was willing to help everybody."
Although plans aren't final, the city expects to use the gift to help furnish the new senior center at Bridge and Boston streets.
"We are certainly going to try to honor her memory," Mayor Kim Driscoll said. "We were just shocked and totally surprised. ... I wish we had known more about her, but it was certainly a generous gift for all of the seniors in Salem."
Willey left smaller bequests to the North Shore Medical Center, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Wesley Church, and The Plummer Home for Boys.