By Lynn R. Mitchell
[Mike Thomas reminded us on Monday that it was two years ago that we lost Tucker Watkins (see Passings: Remembering the unforgettable Tucker Watkins). It was the day of Congressman Eric Cantor’s Republican Roundup and the sad news quickly circulated through the crowd that in years past had included Tucker. At the time I wrote the following collection of remembrances from many whose lives were touched by this man.]
Boy oh boy, did Tucker Watkins fight the good fight. Full of life and mischief — that grin and the twinkle in his eye always made you wonder what he had been up to — this lifelong Republican and Virginia gentleman left a legacy that will live beyond him. A VMI graduate and Vietnam veteran, he fought hard and lived large, enjoying every drop of joy on his life’s journey through his native, beloved Commonwealth.
News on Saturday that he had passed spread quickly throughout the Virginia Republican community and the Republican Roundup in Richmond. He had been ill for several months but everyone was surprised to hear he had passed away. A celebration of his life was held on Tuesday, October 9, 2012, with military burial afterward at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Halifax County.
Tucker was a leader in every sense of the word. There are many heavy hearts knowing we won’t have that happy warrior at our sides anymore but there’s a renewed determination to win for the GOP in November and, most importantly, win this one for George Allen.
Tucker loved George Allen. As a leader in Allen’s A-Team, Tucker worked hard for a man that he respected and called friend. As a member of his tiny community of Clover, he knew everyone and made sure George Allen knew as many of them as possible, and that they all voted for Allen.
No one could sum it up better than another lifelong Republican and Allen’s 2012 campaign manager, Mike Thomas, who had called Tucker Saturday morning and left a message, checking in with his old friend. With he got no answer, he had hoped Tucker was on his way to the Republican Roundup for his annual trek to join Republican friends in Richmond. Mike had fond memories of Tucker:
“Tucker had as much impact on the growth of the Republican Party in Southside and Central Virginia as anyone I have known.
“Anyone who knew Tucker knows that he could talk up a storm. And while that will be fondly remembered, he even more was a listener. He genuinely cared about and wanted to understand other people. And that is likely why he was not only THE most knowledgeable person about current politics and public policy in the Commonwealth (though he never would have claimed that for himself), but was someone who continually reached out to people who were new, even hostile to him.
“Tucker was tireless on behalf of the cause. Over the last 14 years, I would guess there were at least 300 occasions when we were talking on the phone that he would tell me that he was on the way to an event, or had just come from one (or more).
“I can say with certainty that I have known every single District Chair in Virginia who has served since 1980. There has not been another who even approached Tucker in devotion of time, talent, and personal resources.
“Tucker always took the view of himself as a servant of others. And that extended far beyond politics. About three years ago we had lunch in downtown South Boston. He knew all but two of the people having lunch there that day, what was going on in their lives, and had helped several of them personally. He believed God put him here to give, not to take.
“As far as direct accomplishments, there are a number of current and former Republican elected officials who would not have run for office or run for office as a Republican had it not been for Tucker’s persistence, persuasion, intuition, and boldness.
“As important as all these things are, I’m most of all going to miss my friend.”
Former Governor George Allen posted the photo above on his website as he remembered his old friend and longtime ally:
“Today we have lost a dedicated, patriotic leader for Southside Virginia. Tucker Watkins was a loyal, creative leader who was always looking to welcome new people into our Party. Moreover, as my Field Director for Southside Virginia, he worked diligently to help all constituents and help attract more investment and jobs to Southside.
“Susan and I were blessed to have Tucker as a truly special friend. I’m glad he was at a town hall meeting in Halifax County last month. It allowed all of us to cheer for him and express our gratitude for his positive influence in our lives. Susan and I will remember Tucker with grateful and fond memories, and we will keep his friends and family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Susan Allen added, “Sad loss for the A-Team — one of our fellow patriots who worked so hard to advance our conservative principals. Tucker will be missed.”
Richard Crouse, Allen political director, posted the Bible verse at the beginning of this post on his Facebook page along with a photo taken last summer with Tucker and Nathan Pick from the Allen team. He had sent an email Saturday morning that came back with the sad news … Richard was the one who learned first of Tucker’s passing. Richard laughed as he remembered Tucker telling him he was going to DC and when Richard asked, “Washington?” Tucker replied, “No, Son … Downtown Clover.”
Similar memories and thoughts were reflected as the news hit Facebook and spread throughout the Virginia Republican community. They are compiled here in honor and memory of Tucker Watkins who was from Black Walnut Farm, his 1700s ancestral home in Halifax County, Virginia.
From Tucker’s sister, Porter:
“The stories you have all shared about my sweet brother Tucker have meant more than you can know. His children … because he helped raise so many nieces and nephews that I call them all his, have loved the stories and pictures so much. What has meant most of all though is the outpouring of love and concern in these last difficult months.
“Tucker truly knew he was blessed to have so many of you in his life. And what a full life he had.
“We will celebrate his life on Tuesday at 2 pm at the First Presbyterian Church in South Boston with burial following at Oak Ridge Cemetery. We will all be at his home, Black Walnut Farm on Monday night for visitation from 6 to 9.
“I look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday so I can put faces with the many names Tucker has been telling me about over these last months. My appreciation and love to you all, Porter”
State Senator Bill Stanley wrote after the funeral, “Southside laid to rest its favorite son today, Tucker Watkins. He was a mountain, masquerading as a man. He would have liked that those in attendance at his service were talkin’ politics up til the time when the preacher took to the pulpit. But, as Richard Crouse said, Tucker would not have been happy with us not being out campaigning instead … some things at certain times are just more important. Heaven has him now, but his spirit, his words and his can-do attitude remain with us still. Now, let’s go win this thing for Tucker. He would want nothing less.”
Donald Williams, Chairman of Chesterfield County GOP:
“Last week I traded notes with my friend, Tucker Watkins. He was proud to have cast what was to be his last ballot. Oh yes, Tucker was unique. But … he was first and foremost a dedicated and loyal friend. No candidate had a better supporter than Tucker. And oh, how he loved being a Field General on the A-Team. Tucker … you lived a good life. You worked hard. You believed. You cared. And you, Tucker Watkins, will be missed. Tonight, I raise my glass to my friend … not a glass that he filled (although he was known to fill a glass or two) … but one that is filled with memories.”
Steve Kendall, chairman of the Nelson County GOP:
“A great man has slipped from us. A great American, a patriot, a statesman, and an architect for taking the fifth district and Virginia in to the Red column. Some one who I could depend upon when there was a need. I asked him to come to Nelson, he came to Nelson. God Bless a truly inspirational individual. When I felt down and did not feel like fighting the liberals in Nelson county — there Tucker was in my mind saying just a little more, Steve. And I was motivated!”
Ben Marchi, longtime Republican activist and Allen friend:
“I really hope Tucker Watkins had a good bottle of bourbon before he passed on; only appropriate way for him to go. One thing is certain: Hospitality suites won’t be the same.”
Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore:
“We will all miss Tucker Watkins. A loyal Republican who believed in Virginia and his country.”
Alton Foley, fellow conservative blogger and Bearing Drift colleague, and GOP activist:
“ ‘What’cha know?’ That was how Tucker started each phone call, incoming or outgoing. I first met Tucker Watkins by phone. Introduced by Barnie Day, a former Democrat house of delegates member. We spoke often after that, but didn’t actually meet until an event in Charlottesville brought us together. After that he would often stop by my Stanleytown home, or call me from out of the blue, to discuss the latest in Virginia politics.
“I learned a lot from him. He was an exceptional organizer, having learned the art first in the JayCees and later managing a super-sized truck stop. He was also an learned student of Virginia politics. We had our arguments, to be sure. But we respected each other and left our differences behind.
“I’ll never see another iPhone without thinking of him. Just like he embraced the Blackberry that paved the way for it, Tucker loved his iPhone. I don’t know why that popped out, just one of those things about Tucker you’ll never forget. Tucker, I’ll visit you one last time on Tuesday. After that we’ll meet at your hospitality suite in Heaven.”
From Alton’s post on Bearing Drift: “Virginia lost a great patriot today. Tucker Watkins passed away this morning. Tucker was a great teacher, mentor, and organizer. He will be missed by all of Virginia, and especially this writer. His Facebook wall is filling up fast with mini-eulogies and condolences to his family.” Alton then shared a typical Tucker story, this one from 2006.
Lynn Fairchild Martin, Republican volunteer:
“It’s so much fun going back and looking through all of the pictures of Tucker and realizing that most of them were mine. What a powerful force Tucker was, without ever even having to try. He inspired so many of us and taught us more than we could ever learn in a classroom. He was a rare gem, hidden under all of that gruff exterior. I can’t imagine this coming Advance without him. Thank you, Tucker, for keeping us all straight, while keeping us on the edge, all at the same time. May God have you all set up in Heaven with your own, hot tub and a few, barn shelves full of ‘inspiration.’ ”
Kay Coles James, Secretary of Health and Human Resources in Allen administration, served in George W. Bush administration, and is founder and president of the Gloucester Institute:
“Good Bye my friend! We will fight on. Rest and enjoy your just reward!”
Wendy Jacobs, Young Republican leader and volunteer:
My heart is saddened by the loss of Tucker Watkins. Virginia politics has lost a great force, but heaven has gained a great soul. RIP Tucker–until we meet again! Through those you took under your wing–your legacy will live long and strong!
Peter Foster, Republican activist:
“I will always be grateful to have known a true Southside, Virginia, original, Tucker Watkins. He was one of the people who always made politics fun, and he battled his illness with the same high spirit, determination, and good humor with which he approached everything else he encountered. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers. In true Tucker fashion, he made sure to vote absentee just a few days ago. No RPV advance will ever be the same.”
Wayne Ozmore, former 4th Congressional District Chairman:
“Rest in peace Tucker Watkins. A friend and a mentor in politics. A veteran of the U.S. Army who served with distinction in combat. A former Fifth District Chairman for the Republican Party of Virginia who led us through some challenging times within the party. Last spoke with him about a month ago after his surgery. Tough loss to take.”
Lee Talley, Republican volunteer:
“I’m saddened today of the passing of my friend Tucker Watkins. I was blessed to be his friend. Sitting in his suite at the Advance was like a graduate course in Virginia political history and political science combined. He taught me a lot and was so generous with his wisdom and encouragement. When ever he’d see me he’d come up behind me and kick me in the butt and say, “Hey Dummy what do you know good,” and put his arm around me a howl with laughter. I could have been called a genius but I never felt more complemented in politics than by being the object of his teasing.”
Alex Stanley with Governor Bob McDonnell’s staff:
“So many folks have inspired me in this field but I credit 3 individuals for where I am today in politics, my parents and Tucker Watkins. I have so many memories of running around Tucker’s farm as a child, tagging along to meetings, conventions, & fundraisers with him & dad. I remember my parents thinking they lost me at the 93 RPV Convention and Tucker being the one who spotted me trying to get on stage to shake GFA’s hand. After deciding to work in politics full time he motivated me and showed me what commitment to our party really is…all while picking on me and giving me a hard time, the true Tucker. His loss is so hard but I’m going to do everything I can to win this election for my Downtown Clover favorite.”
Chaz Evans-Haywood, Clerk of Court for Harrisonburg-Rockingham and former field office director for Senator George Allen:
“My friend Tucker Watkins was welcomed home by OUR Father yesterday. Always sound political advice and a listening ear. I still remember him picking on me as the new young political activist. If those satellite phones you said we should get picked up from the other side I would thank you for the honest guidance and remind you that you have created a legacy. Enjoy the angels and the sight of Christ’s smiling face!”
Jim Hoeft, Bearing Drift:
“I was in college when I first met Tucker Watkins. On my first trip to Richmond, the congenial man took me on an all-expense paid trip to the Tobacco Company in downtown Richmond. I was Second Vice Chairman of the College Republican Federation of Virginia at the time, and, as far as I can tell, many years later now, that the man from “Black Walnut Farm” was sizing me up.
“I can say, with a degree of satisfaction, that I measured up to Tucker’s keen gaze. Years later, he came to blog conferences where I requested his presence, though he didn’t blog. And he invited me to spend many an evening at Republican Advances, or other such gatherings of like minds, partaking in libations. It was at these gatherings where he helped me realize that politics is personal – but not to be taken personally.
“What we discussed together was real. The conversations had depth and affect me still today. When we gathered, we laughed together, got upset together, and raised a glass in a toast together.
“I will miss Tucker greatly. He always said I was completely and totally wrong in my thoughts on the Civil War, especially with regard to Gen. Stonewall Jackson. But, Tucker – I will give you this: Virginians love their country, love their brothers, and will defend them to the end. So, since this is the end of our time together here, thank you for welcoming me to Virginia. I am proud to make this my home.”
Shaun Kenney, Chairman of Fluvanna Board of Supervisors & former RPV Communications Chairman:
“When I moved to Fluvanna, I pulled Tucker Watkins aside and told him that I would be leaving the 1st District to go live in the 5th District. He lit up and yelled ‘I just stole one of Russ Moulton’s best people!!!’ Between that and his informal hospitality suites at the RPV Advance … in pace requiescat, Tucker.”
Tim Nussbaum with the Allen campaign:
“I quickly came to know Tucker Watkins upon coming to work for the Allens in February of 2008. He, perhaps more than anyone else, instilled in me the importance of the history and commitment of the A-Team. He was always there to answer any questions I had and share his perspective on South Side and the entire Commonwealth. He was the epitome of a gentleman and will be dearly missed by all. RIP our friend.”
Joseph Ellison, Director of Clergy for the Allen campaign:
“Just got the word my dear friend Tucker Watkins went home to be with the Lord. He was my first supervisor and hired me as a teenager in late 70s to work at Jack in the Box in Richmond. Tucker is one of the reasons I am conservative today. Many nites at the restaurant we would talk about politics. Back then I really didn’t fully understand, now I do Tucker! Love you Boss! My heart is truly grateful and heavy.
“You want to make Tucker even more happier in heaven? Let’s win Virginia by electing our candidates! And especially George Allen! I know without a shadow of a doubt he would have wanted that for
“I will remember Tucker Watkins every time I go downstate.”
“Tucker, we will all miss you.”
For myself, I have these thoughts about Tucker:
When I was first elected to the State Central Committee in 2005, Tucker was chairman of the 5th Congressional District. As the chairs would give their unit reports at our quarterly meetings, it was always a production when we got to the 5th District because Tucker made it a production. He had the place doubled over laughing with his off-the-wall descriptions of activities and events in his beloved southside Virginia. I remembered thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’
Who he was turned out to be a hard-working district chair disguised as a comedian. He was funny, he was a wise-cracker, he was mischievous. Our last conversation was just before he went in the hospital several months ago when we talked for an hour about the George Allen campaign and other issues. I had no idea it would be the last time I would talk with him. Many have mentioned his infamous after-hours hospitality suite at the Republican Advances throughout the years.
He was a character and a Virginia gentleman in more ways than most will know, and he will be badly missed. I have no doubt he is in heaven organizing angel precincts and recruiting someone to run for Head Angel, and figuring out a good location to get a big fundraiser going…. Wonder if St. Peter looked the other way to allow a sampling of adult beverages through the Pearly Gates?
Rest in peace, Tucker Watkins. See you down the trail….