Dr. Thomas Watkins Jr.
February 6, 1921 – October 4, 2019
Thomas Watkins, Jr. was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, the only child of Thomas and Louise Mowery Watkins. Thomas enjoyed a happy, secure, and loving childhood. It involved strong family ties and strong Christian teachings. He attended public elementary schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he resided with his parents and in New York City, where he lived with an aunt. At the age of seven he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he resided with another of his father’s sisters. He attended Cambridge High and Latin School there, the same school his father had attended.
After high school, Thomas completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where he graduated with a B. A. Science degree, Magna Cum Laude. His plan to continue his studies in dentistry, were encouraged by his father, who was also a dentist. Thomas attended University of Pennsylvania Dental School. He studied there until his education was interrupted by a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy and entered the service in July 1943. Following his discharge, he resumed his dental training. He graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a Doctorate of Dental Surgery Degree (D.D.S.) in 1944, Magna Cum Laude. He was a member of Omicron Kappa Epsilon and Matthew H. Cryer Honorary Dental Societies, both at University of Pennsylvania. Thomas was also commissioned a lieutenant in September 1944 upon graduation and became the first African American dentist in the Navy.
He reported to duty in Great Lakes, Michigan for training in October 1944 and was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, where he later set up and operated a dental clinic at Manana Naval Barracks in March 1945. In June 1946, after he was discharged and returned from duty. New orders arrived and assigned him to report to an Army base at Camp Polk, Louisiana. While there, he was promoted to full lieutenant in September 1946 and shortly afterwards was finally discharged in December 1946. As a naval officer he had to be discharged by the Navy, and there were no large naval bases in Texas but a small naval unit in Orange, Texas near the Mexican border. So consequently, he went there and received his honorable discharge.
Thomas returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, to open a private practice with his father, where his mother served as the receptionist. He worked there for 17 years. He also served as the tennis coach for Johnson C. Smith University. During his time in Charlotte, he also met Jeanne, the love of his life, on a blind date. She was in town, visiting from Wilmington, North Carolina, for a work-related convention. Thomas and Jeanne married after a less than two-year courtship and resided in Charlotte. Thomas taught French and German while Jeanne taught Speech at Carver Junior College, predominantly to returning veterans. They d his family moved to California in 1961 and were blessed with another daughter and a son, Tracy and Thomas III. They lived in Los Angeles, Arcadia, and then finally moved to Dana Point, where they have resided for over 25 years. Thomas was very dedicated to his wife and family. Thomas and Jeanne were happily married for over 50 years.
Thomas enjoyed an illustrious career that spanned nearly 50 years. He worked at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital. He also received his Master’s of Public Health (M.P.H.) from UCLA in 1970 during his employment at LAC-USC Medical Center and California Institution for Women, where he served as the head and/or senior dentist, and taught visiting nurses. He also worked at Leon Roisman, D.D.S. Clinic. He was well loved, respected, and admired by his staff, patients, and pupils.
Thomas was a very humble, kind, positive, and mild-mannered man, despite his good looks, high education, success, many accomplishments, and adversity. He was an avid fan of tennis, lover of chocolate, and enjoyed reading, chess, boating, and do-it-yourself projects.
Thomas departed this life peacefully on Friday, October 4, 2019 at Mission Hospital after recent illness with complications from a pulmonary embolism. He leaves behind an abundance of friends and family who remember him as a humble, kind, loving, and jovial man who enjoyed people and embraced life. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne, his four children, June, Kim, Tracy (Phillip), and Thomas III, grandchildren, John, Rickey Jr, Wesley, Thomas, Clifton, Shawn, and Tristan, nieces, nephews, cousins, and a host of friends and well-wishers.
- Memorial Service Sunday, October 13, 2019
- Celebration Reception Sunday, October 13, 2019