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Eugene Conrad Watkins


Eugene Conrad Watkins, the father of Durango resident Gary Watkins, died of heart failure Friday, May 11, 2012, in Wheat Ridge. He was 89.

Mr. Watkins was born to Ephraim and Bernice Watkins on Feb. 18, 1923, on a dry dirt farm near Burlington. The Dust Bowl forced his family to move to Longmont in 1936.

He was a student at the University of Colorado when World War II began. Mr. Watkins enlisted in the Army Aviation Cadet Program, became a pilot and served in Italy near the end of the war. Staying on in Europe after the war, he flew diplomats such as Henry Cabot Lodge to their postwar missions.

Upon returning to Colorado, he completed his degree in chemistry at the University of Colorado, and he later earned a masterís degree in international studies at George Washington University.

He married Mary Louise Pharis on June 13, 1948, in Wheat Ridge.

In 1950, Mr. Watkins was recalled to active duty in the Air Force and decided to make it a career. He and his family were posted around the world, including Tripoli, Libya; Reno Nev.; San Bernadino and Fresno, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Tachikawa, Japan; and the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

In 1966, Mr. Watkins was honored as Man of the Year by the Air Force Association for his work in the community and with the March of Dimes.

In 1968, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he flew 120 combat missions with over a thousand takeoffs and landings. Among numerous medals, Mr. Watkins earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals. Promoted to full colonel, he finished his career at the Pentagon in 1973.

Mr. Watkins retired to Arvada, where he pursued his lifelong passions of woodworking, hunting, fishing, camping, traveling, reading, following sports and collecting guns. He was also a competitive marksman and served as the president of the Table Mountain Gun Club.

Mr. Watkins was preceded in death by his wife of almost 55 years, Mary Lou Watkins.

He is survived by his sons Gary Watkins of Durango and David Watkins of Wheat Ridge; daughters Channie Wright of Arvada and Libby Ranson of Golden; sisters Patricia Malvern of Denver and Leola Sheike of Lead, S.D.; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, May 18, 2012, at the Arvada Methodist Church, 6750 Carr St.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the American Heart Association.

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