In Memoriam: Admiral James Watkins


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with deep sorrow the death July 26, 2012 of former Life Trustee and Honorary Member, Admiral James David “Jim” Watkins.  Jim and his wife Janet became WHOI Associates in 2004.  Jim was elected an Honorary Trustee (now known as Life Trustee) and an Honorary Member in 2004. 

James David Watkins was born March 7, 1927 in Alhambra, California.  He was one of seven children of the late Edward Francis Watkins and the late Louise Whipple (Ward) Watkins, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the United States Senate from California in 1938.

Jim received his BS from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1949; he received his MS in mechanical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1958.  Upon graduating from college, he served on submarines during the Korean and Vietnam wars.  During his 37-year naval career, Jim served as Commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and Commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet; he was appointed Chief of Naval Operations in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan, retiring in 1986.  At the pentagon, Admiral Watkins was known as “Radio-Free Watkins” for his blunt outspokenness. 

Following his retirement, President Reagan appointed him to lead the Presidential Commission on Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic (AIDS), also known as the Watkins Commission.  Admiral Watkins served as Secretary of Energy from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.  He established the Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management within the Department of Energy, the first program to clean up pollution at the nation’s nuclear plants, and spearheaded the administration’s energy legislation.  In 2001, Admiral Watkins was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as Chair of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Admiral Watkins’ decorations include two awards of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; three awards of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal; three awards of the Legion of Merit; the Presidential Citizens Medal; and the Bronze Star. 

During his career, Admiral Watkins served as President of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE); President of Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI); and Co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI).  He also served as a board member of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation; Naval Academy Endowment Trust; Carnegie Corporation of New York; GTS Duratek, Inc.; International Technology Corporation; Philadelphia Electric Co.; Southern California Edison Co.; and VESTAR, Inc.  In 2001, he was given the title of President Emeritus of CORE and awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Public Award.  In 2005, the Naval Postgraduate Mechanical Engineering Building was renamed Watkins Hall, after Admiral Watkins.  He was a Life Member of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and a member of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Hall of Fame. 

Jim and his wife of 12 years, Janet (Tobin) Watkins, lived in Alexandria, Virginia.  His first wife, Sheila Jo (McKinney) Watkins, died in 1996 after 45 years of marriage; she established and raised money for two state-of-the-art child-care centers in the nation’s capital, in addition to founding the Spouses of Presidential Appointees to help the other half of Cabinet couples adjust to their new role. 

In addition to his wife Janet, he is survived by six children from his first marriage: Katherine Watkins Coopersmith, RNCS; Laura Jo Kauffmann; Susan Watkins; Charles; Edward; and Monsignor James D. Watkins, Jr.; four stepchildren: Christopher; Sean; Robert; and Siobhan McDonough; 16 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; and a brother John. 



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