May 21, 1925 – Dec. 9, 2017
John Francis Watkins, who spent a 40-year career as a senior executive and board member of Los Angeles-based Jorgensen Steel before committing more than 30 years of exemplary service to numerous Southern California nonprofit institutions, died peacefully at home at the age of 92.
Watkins was the fifth of seven children of Edward Francis Watkins and Louise Ward Watkins. Watkins was the last surviving member of that generation. Born at home in Alhambra on May 21, 1925, Watkins moved to the Linda Vista area of Pasadena in 1930. He attended Polytechnic School, Loyola High School and Loyola College for one year before entering the Navy for the waning years of World War II in the Pacific Theater. While serving as a naval ensign, he was part of the Navy flotilla that assessed the damage caused by the “A” bomb that the United States dropped on Bikini Atoll.
Watkins’ dedication to the Navy did not end with active duty. Watkins remained committed to the Navy and veterans through the rest of his life. His service on the national board of the Navy League, activities with the USS Pasadena Foundation, and assistance with countless placements of individuals at Annapolis and recruiting allowed him to serve our country with distinction as a civilian. Watkins was honored in the opening ceremonies of the 2017 Rose Bowl representing the Navy with other veterans from the other military branches, which was a wonderful recognition to a life of service to the Navy.
On the GI Bill, Watkins returned to study civil engineering at the University of Texas, Austin. UT Austin created a sphere of friends and colleagues that remained with him throughout his long life. He was extremely fond of his brothers in Sigma Nu and Silver Spurs. Watkins also had the privilege of playing on the varsity golf team under the leadership of Harvey Penick. He remained a committed golfer well into his 80s.
When Watkins came home to Pasadena, he was hired by family friend Earle M Jorgensen to work at the Earle M. Jorgensen Steel Co. His tenure at the company lasted for the next 40-plus years. Concurrently, Watkins co-founded a bachelor organization in 1949, Los Solteros (the Bachelors), which had a philanthropic mission in addition to the numerous social activities. The focus of their philanthropy was Boys Republic of Chino Hills. Boys Republic, a facility for troubled youth, became the first of literally dozens of organizations that benefitted from Watkins’ selfless commitment of time, talent and treasure.
Following the purchase of Jorgensen by Reliant Steel in 1995, Watkins began a second life of philanthropic endeavors that will remain his lasting “professional” legacy. Never leaving behind causes and only picking up new ones, Watkins set a course to help transform Catholic education institutions across the Los Angeles Archdiocese. He and a group of like-minded Catholics help create governance structure across literally dozens of schools, which has now become normative throughout the Catholic school system. Along the way, he was the catalyst for millions of dollars of capital and program fundraising. For his work in this regard, Watkins was recognized in 2003 with a Cardinals Award.
In addition to supporting Boys Republic, Catholic schools and several Catholic Orders, Watkins enjoyed numerous associations with Southern California Historical Societies that reflected the family’s presence in California since the founding of California. All organizations that he touched will remember him as a generous spirit who gave everything and then some to advance a righteous cause.
Formerly married to Adele Hughes, Watkins is survived by four children — Stephen (married to Carol), Katherine (married to Erik Schwenck), John Jr. (married to Christine) and William. Watkins is also survived by his beloved grandchildren — Madeline (22), Charlotte (20), Arabella (19), Ellie (16), Dorothy (13), Christian (13) and Johnny (8). Further, Watkins had numerous nieces and nephews whom he cherished. Watkins placed his love and pride of his family above all else and they will remain his most enduring legacy of kindness and generosity.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations in Watkins’ name be made at one of three institutions: Boys Republic, Dolores Mission or Holy Family Church. Funeral Mass will occur on Dec. 15 at 4 p.m. at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena.