Remembering Leroy Watkins

by Bobby Watkins 

On Sept. 31, former residents of Robert Taylor Homes came out to remember the late Leroy Watkins, who also happened to be my uncle.

One young man, Eric Guy, described Leroy as a valuable member of the community. He was always thinking of others, especially the young people. Leroy moved his family into the Robert Taylor Homes building at 4555 S. Federal St. in April 1962.

Residents remember Leroy as someone who was always willing to lend a helping hand and opening his door to others. He organized a little league team called the Twins for the young men of the development. Later, he formed softball teams called the Invaders and Invaderettes to keep the teenage boys and girls of the development out of trouble.

During his years at Taylor, Leroy would be there to talk with or just sit and listen to anyone who needed a soft-spoken man with a very big heart. He had an award-winning garden there and also would take young people to White Sox games. He often tried to persuade them to attend church.

When Leroy died suddenly in 1981, residents came out in full support. They got petitions signed to name the local baseball field and diamond after Leroy. CHA agreed to the residents’ request and the field was supposed to be named Leroy Watkins Park. A reporter from the Chicago Defender covered the ceremony for the naming of the park in April 1982. But nothing was ever officially done. No plaque was installed and no sign was erected. At the time, many residents felt the park should have been finished and fenced in.

Eric Guy helped collect signatures on the residents’ original petition and attended the 1982 ceremony. Guy was one of the young people that Leroy helped. Guy participated on the league ball team and was encouraged by Leroy in his early career. His hard work paid off and Guy is currently the manager of a local restaurant.

This year, Guy, along with some other former residents as well as some current residents, came out to remember “the nicest damn person we ever knew,” as he was described in his obituary, written by Ron Tate and published both in the Defender and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Family members attended the celebration this year and felt it was a well-deserved honor. They thanked Guy and the rest of the residents who helped to make the event possible. The attendees said they would follow up with Ald. Dorothy Tilman (3) and CHA to see why there was never any follow-through after the 1982 dedication ceremony.

Guy and the residents who are still there have declared the Sunday before Labor Day as Leroy Watkins Day and will continue to remember and celebrate each year at that time.

On behalf of the family of Leroy Watkins, I would like to thank all those folks for their kindness. We will join you in remembering the nicest man we ever knew.

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