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Mayor pro-tem John Watkins Jr. passes away at 79

By By Adam Prestridge
There will be a vacant seat Monday afternoon at the Atmore city council meeting following the death of councilman John Watkins Jr. A black bow will be placed in the chair that he has filled for the last 16 years.
Watkins, 79, who served as mayor pro-tem under mayor Howard Shell, had been battling numerous illnesses including cancer for the past several years. He passed away around 6:25 p.m. Thursday evening at Atmore Community Hospital following a bout with pneumonia with his wife of 55 years, Veola, at his bedside.
For those who knew Watkins, they knew of his love for Atmore, which he never tried to hide, and his dry sense of humor. There were many cups of coffee drank over discussions of city business, as well as, church business, which he also took much pride in. Those who spoke of him Friday morning said his presence would be sorely missed.
Shell, who first met Watkins while working for Monsanto Corporation in the late 50s, said he not only lost a colleague, but a dear friend.
Friends and family displayed their outpouring of love for Watkins Friday as they filed in and out of the couples’ home on Liberty Street all day.
Councilman Louie Turner III was one of the last people to see Watkins alive Thursday evening. He left Watkins room with a goodbye around 5:45 p.m. only to receive a shocking phone call less than an hour later informing him that his fellow councilman had passed away.
Fellow councilman Webb Nall was also taken back when he heard the news of Watkins’ death, while traveling home from business trip in Birmingham.
Watkins was a World War II veteran, serving in the United States Army on the Marianas Islands in Guam as an electric winches to assist in the loading and unloading of ships. He retired from Monsanto after 31 years where he served as a cook, a cafeteria foreman and a main plant foreman. He was elected to the Atmore Council in 1992 and was named mayor pro-tem in 1996. He served the residents of District 3.
John Garrard, who has served on the city council with Watkins for 12 years, thought highly of his fellow councilman for the work he did during his tenure.
Garrard added that Watkins served the people in his district and did not look for any recognition or benefits for he or his family.
Even when Watkins disagreed with someone on a certain issue, the results were always positive.
As for the city’s vacant council position, Shell said it would be addressed late next week following Watkins’ funeral services.
Funeral services are tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday evening at Gaines Chapel AME Church. A graveside service with military will would be held Thursday morning at 10 a.m. Finalized funeral arrangements will be posted on www.atmoreadvance.com.