Rev. Watkins’ life spent in service to others

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 30, 2010

Big people can come from small towns, and Vicksburg was blessed to have such a person among us for many years.

The Rev. Bill Watkins, who was born in Florence and died last week, was such a man. Unimposing. Undemanding. He led a life of Christian example and effectiveness.

Twenty years ago, when Good Shepherd Community Center, founded here by Rev. Watkins, received a day in the national spotlight via President George H.W. Bush’s 1,000 Points of Light Foundation, Rev. Watkins was, no doubt, pleased. But what he cared about that day, every day before and every day since, was each individual served by the center and how offerings could be tailored to contribute to his or her personal growth.

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That the center, under the direction of the Rev. Tommy Miller since Rev. Watkins retired 12 years ago, continues to thrive is his legacy. It’s a testament to how well Good Shepherd’s programs fill local gaps in education, motivation, health and spiritual needs.

After graduating from Moss Point High School, Rev. Watkins served in the Navy in both World War II and in Korea. He then graduated from Millsaps College and Candler School of Theology at Emory University. The Methodist Church first assigned him to a congregation of Star, Braxton and Greenfield residents. He moved, as Methodist clergy do, and among other assignments served as superintendent of the Vicksburg-West Jackson District.

Then, fairly late in his ministry, he got support and worked with others to create Good Shepherd in a boarded up and abandoned elementary school at the north end of Cherry Street. Its broad-based yet specifically targeted outreach programs succeeded because they worked. That sounds simple, but the success would not have been attained without the faith and insight of Rev. Watkins and his wife of nearly 55 years, Meta Dixon Watkins, who has been his ministerial partner, too.

“What drove him was his deep love for Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Chris Young, his pastor. “He had a passion for people and the needs of others that grew directly out of his faith.”

“He was trying to help us all be better Christians and better folks,” said Oren Bailess, a friend of Rev. Watkins and board member at Good Shepherd.

Big people can come from small towns. Vicksburg was blessed that much of Rev. Bill Watkins’ life of Christian witness and service was here among us.