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Robert Charles Watkins

Born on 4-6-1927. He was born in Detroit, MI.
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Robert Charles Watkins was born on April 6, 1927 in Detroit, Michigan at Dunbar Hospital. No one knew the special assignment GOD had given him. During his seventy-nine years, he became one of the most special people ever to walk this earth. Even he, with his dreams of shaping the world to reflect a better place for the people that came in contact with him, could not have believed just how much he would change their world. He virtually changed everyones life to some degree once they met him.

Born to Harry and Mary Louise Watkins into a family that already had two boys, Edward and Harry, he would be the little brother with big ideas that would make him a giant among men. Roberts entire life was devoted to making every experience .Positive.Throughout his life, he became an advocate for social, political and economic equality for all. He would often recount his life starting with the move to Corning, New York with his mother and two brothers at the age of two. He would beam with pride when he spoke of his loving mother, his two Aunts, Carrie and Bess, and his Uncle Edward. He would speak about the conditions under which they were forced to live as Black people in Corning, where he would remain the rest of his life.

As a child, he heard adults speak of pioneers William Warfield, Paul Roberson and Marcus Garvey. Roberts Mother, Mary Louise, knew members of the Warfield family (Warfields father was at one time the Pastor of Cornings Friendship Baptist Church). Surely this had an impact on Roberts life. The influence of such outstanding men and women drove Robert to become a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the age of eleven. Robert, at the age of twenty-seven, became a NAACP Representative for the Western Region of New York State. He was a proud and dedicated officer. He made a special effort to attend every conference of NAACP Branch meetings that he could. He traveled throughout the country citing the philosophy of the organization to anyone that would listen. His youngest son would always say I got my gift of gab from my Dad.

In addition, Robert did like people! A great conversation piece of his was recounting his memories of the March on Washington, I want everyone to enjoy the progress our country has made. He was very excited about the march and he helped arrange for busses to transport people from Corning, Elmira and Ithaca so that many people from the area could attend. Once he arrived in Washington, he was overwhelmed by the number of people. There were so many people that he had to watch from the limb of a tree as Martin Luther King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech in 1963. Robert remained as the Western New York Region Representative for the NAACP until 1991. He said he gave up the position in order to get out of the way of the younger people.

Throughout his life, family was important to him; his home was always open to friends, family and to strangers. Whenever he met someone new there was always a smile, an outstretched hand, and the greeting Hi, I'm Bob, so good to meet you! It is estimated that in his lifetime, Bob has greeted several hundred thousand people. He had a way of making perfect strangers feel that they were important to him and each person was important to him. Bob always looked to find a common ground with those he met.

His late teen years were a time of his passing to manhood; he worked with men two and three times his age, always carrying his weight as a construction worker. Later in his early twenties, he was called by the U.S. Army to serve his country. Bob went to Japan after his basic training in Texas. Then in Japan, he was stationed at Yokahama for the remainder of his enlistment. Later as a retiree, he would go back to Japan as part of the "Corning-Osuka" sister city committee.

When Bob was discharged from the Army after his three year tour, he settled down in South Corning and went back to work for "Corning Glass Works". He had several jobs, some of which were hot and dangerous, but he wanted to help his mother and also become more involved in his beloved NAACP to improve living conditions for his people. Then something happened that would change his life forever. Just by chance, while on a visit to Washington, D.C. to see a friend, he met a girl a girl that just happened to live eighteen miles from his home. When he came back home that August in 1953, his mother heard the story not once but sometimes several times a day until!!! Then on the late morning of April 10, 1954, at Corning's Friendship Baptist Church the former Cleo Briley became his bride. His older brother Harry served as his best man. They were married over fifty-two years. The Watkins have two sons, Robert II and Gregory.

The next big step for Bob came with his admittance into Corning Glass Works apprentice training program. This marked his movement from unskilled worker to the skilled journeyman's level. This journeyman's position would open doors for him. The new technology that was being developed at the pilot plants he worked in was just beginning to have the bugs worked out of it. Bob, and fellow journeyman, Harley Reynolds, submitted an idea to Corning Glass Works (CGW) that would save a considerable amount of money. This idea made the production levels go up so much that it was used for over a decade. The resulting award (cash award) would make things a little easier for the Watkins family.

Later in 1984 the Governor of New York State, Mario M. Cuomo, honored Bob and the other Black tradesmen via an exhibit featuring his picture displayed in the "World Trade Center " and the "Harlem State Office Building". The American Flint Glass Workers Union agreed with this idea and joined in with a proclamation citing Bob for his work.

While Bob was active in his beloved NAACP and working hard as a machinist for CGW, he was still a very social person. The farm that he had purchased for his family was now to be the site of the famous "Watkins Family Pig Roast". People that knew Bob knew that he was extremely good at delegating and this event was not to be different. Bob's hard working wife would direct how the meal was to be. Family friends would bring dishes of every variety and a Specialist was brought in to roast a pig or two. There were turkeys roasted in special ovens. There were game birds from the Game Preserve were specially chosen by Greg, and hand carried around the large crowd to insure everyone had a taste. The vast array of friends and family is too numerous to mention here, but we know people came from several states to participate. Bob would greet each person and make sure the accommodations were to his liking. This event went on for most of the 1990's and people would still stop Bob on the street or at other events to ask when's the next pig roast?

Bob retired in 1985 and was looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors. The farm was a perfect place for a game preserve, thus after consultation with his son the "Finger Lakes Game Preserve" was born. Bob loved to banter with the guests and to ride the tractor to groom the land. This became an avocation and Bob enjoyed it! The Watkins family would take care of the birds and Bob would greet the hunters. Bob would go and find the best trees to put on the land and anything else he could do to improve the farm. Bob loved the farm!

The Grandchildren, Nathan and Natalie were beginning to grow up and he was very happy seeing them excel in school. He would attend their sporting events and root for their teams at every home game. When possible he went to Nathan's games at the University of Maryland. As time went on, he stayed close to home, but stayed in contact with his old NAACP friends. He followed the local and national news almost as much as he followed his extended family.

Robert will not be forgotten soon, and the World will miss him. May his soul rest in peace.

Melvin H. Watkins

August 25, 2006