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'Big Ed' remembered for kindness & dedication to Elon

The campus community gathered Tuesday morning in the Numen Lumen Pavilion to celebrate the life of Ed Watkins, an auto mechanic who died April 18 while fishing with a friend from Elon University’s Physical Plant.

Edward Nolan Watkins

Those who knew him best say that anyone grieving the loss of Ed Watkins can take comfort in words the popular Elon University auto mechanic was fond of sharing with his trademark smile: “It’s gonna be all right.”

Watkins, a seven-year employee of the university, died April 18, 2014, as he fished on a Caswell County lake a few miles north of campus. His sudden passing two days before Easter shook his close-knit group of colleagues in the Physical Plant, many of whom turned out Tuesday morning for a “Gathering of Friends” in the Numen Lumen Pavilion.

The hundreds of people who came together heard stories and celebrated the life of “Big Ed,” a “gentle giant” known for his generosity, his kindness and his dedication to Elon.

“We’re going to miss him. We’re going to miss him a lot,” said Keith Dimont, Watkins’ boss in automotive services. “He was just one of those guys. People loved him, but he loved people. You could see that in his work. I never saw him meet a challenge that he couldn’t take care of.”

Remembered as an outdoor enthusiast, the 43-year-old regularly enjoyed hunting and fishing and, according to his obituary, one of his favorite pastimes was to work on and race his 1969 Chevy Chevelle. He also was dedicated to the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, where he served as a member of the Tribal Council and assisted with the upkeep of the tribal grounds.

The 45-minute gathering led by the Rev. Jan Fuller included hymns, readings from Psalms and 1 Corinthians, and remembrances by colleagues and family members. Margie Watkins, Ed’s mother and a program assistant in the Office of Greek Life, spoke about the way the “Elon family” showed itself since her son’s death.

Hundreds of people gathered in the Sacred Space and adjoining McBride Gathering Space of the Numen Lumen Pavilion on April 22, 2014, to remember Elon University auto mechanic Ed Watkins, who died four days earlier while fishing.

“Thank you to each and every one of you for all of your calls, your caring, your visits,” she said. “Truly, this university operates, feels, cries, shares and celebrates as a family.”

James Moore, a university groundskeeper fishing with Watkins when he died, spoke at length about his friend’s compassion, their shared interests in hunting and fishing, and that “there were no stupid questions with Ed” whenever Moore would ask how to do something new. He compared shaking hands with Watkins to shaking hands “with a catcher’s mitt.”

“Ed was always very selfless and a very giving person,” said Moore, who closed his remarks with his own reflections from the weekend. “I was living ‘in the past’ on Friday thinking this was all a bad dream,” he said. “But what’s done is done and you can’t change it. You can change the future. … Life is too short to let silliness come in the way of a good friendship or relationship. Take time to be a friend and offer forgiveness when needed.”

Watkins is survived by his parents, Brice and Margie, two brothers and a sister, their spouses, his grandmother and a host of uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. Funeral services for Watkins are scheduled for Wednesday, April 23, at 2 p.m. at the McClure Funeral Home Chapel in Mebane, N.C., with visitation at 1 p.m.

Eric Townsend,
4/22/2014 11:10 AM