Howard left this world early January 4, 2021, after a happy and full life of 92 years. There are people you meet whose personalities are so large that their presence fills a room with light. That was Howard. He was a gentleman whose natural good looks, joy for living and generous spirit made him as handsome on the inside as he was on the outside. His life’s work was sales, first for Georgia Broilers in Gainesville after leaving the army in 1953. This career continued with Pillsbury and Purina in subsequent years until he became a partner in Fieldale Farms in 1971, acting as Vice President and directing sales for the company until his retirement. Having met on a blind date, Howard married Marilyn Windmann, (Winnie), after graduating from Purdue University in 1951. They settled in Gainesville to raise their three children: Stephanie Corry, (Bill), Shannon Heft, and Howard O. Watkins III, Kin, (Carol). They had several opportunities to move during his career, but loved all that Gainesville had to offer their family. Howard and Winnie were active in the community and their church, First United Methodist, until Winnie’s death in 1995. He was an avid woodworker throughout his life, a skill he learned from his father. All three of the children grew up helping Daddy in the shop. He found great satisfaction in building furniture for his children and grandchildren. He was especially happy when Kin came to love this same avocation. Howard bought land on the Hiawassee River in 1988, and built a home the same year. He moved permanently to Hiawassee after Winnie’s death, and became involved in his neighborhood, Hi River. He served as the association president for years. He and Lori McDonald could be seen most days driving around the neighborhood either in his truck or golf cart to touch base with their neighbors, working hard to make the new development a close community. He loved the area and was thankful his love for trout fishing had made it his final home. Lori and Howard felt fortunate to stay in their homes into their golden years. Their friendship started when Howard was teaching her late husband, Bill, how to trout fish. After Bill’s death, their friendship grew, and Lori has become part of the Watkins’ family, acting as honorary grandmother. They traveled the world together, as Howard was a true vagabond, planning the next trip as soon as the last one ended. Their commitment to each other has been a blessing to both. Howard was a man of faith and became an active member of Hiawassee United Methodist Church, serving in various leadership roles. He especially loved his participation in Men’s Club, and the Food Pantry became a ministry of passion for him. He loved the members of his church family and Pastor Sam Hamby, and valued their friendship and support. Building a spot where his grandchildren could grow up and enjoy time together became a driving priority after retirement. Papa’s has become a cherished gathering place by all eight of the grandchildren: Steph & Bill’s Walden, John Howard, Taylor and Hennessey; Shannon’s Ramsey and Peri; and Kin & Carol’s Christopher and Timothy. As adults they continued to love their times together with Papa in the mountains, and look forward to taking their own children hiking, fishing, tubing down the river, playing “ghost in the darkness” and chasing lightning bugs. During the past year, Howard found joy in welcoming three great grandchildren. Grace was born to Hennessey & Craig Costigan in November 2019; Rowland came in May to Walden & Cara Corry, and Kelden arrived in November 2020 to Ramsey & John Lucas. Even the babies felt their Great Papa’s big personality, content to lay in his arms and study his face. He felt blessed to have lived long enough to know them. Howard was the oldest of three, born to Robina and Howard Watkins in Chicago, Illinois. His mother, Nana, was the perfect example of an involved grandparent, making wonderful memories with his children. His two younger sisters, Helen Stevens and Robin Johnson, reside in Connecticut. The three have stayed close over the years, sharing family vacations and events as often as possible. The Watkins’ family appreciates so much Howard’s caregivers of the last two years. Their care and affection for him gave him and the family such comfort. He had a special relationship with each one, and they gave his life much richness. They have become part of the family. Their selfless love and devotion have been priceless and will never be forgotten. So how do you measure a life in six inches of newsprint? You can’t. Howard Watkins was a man that loved in abundance. John Howard said of his Papa, “He had so much love to give, and he pursued life with so much energy and passion.” He valued every relationship he had with others, and as a true servant of God, practiced loving generosity throughout his life. The family will plan a memorial event to celebrate Howard’s life in the coming months. Memorial gifts can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave. Floor 17 Chicago, IL 60601.
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