Family, community, sports — these were the things that Cecil Watkins valued most in life and although he had won numerous awards, he will be remembered as a humble man who never boasted about his accomplishments. Watkins died on Oct. 10 from complications due to pancreatic cancer. He was 76 years old.
“All the years I knew him —nearly my entire life — and he never talked about himself,” said his niece, Pat Watkins. “He loved others and you could see that in the way he talked to people. He loved his family and he worked hard to provide a good life for his wife and his children.”
Watkins was born on Dec.13, 1929 in Harlem and developed his love of sports at an early age. He earned varsity letters in basketball and baseball in high school. Later he received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in sports administration and management from Adelphi University.
“He lived and breathed sports,” his wife of 46 years, Valerie, said. “People would always ask him what his favorite sport was or his favorite team and he would always say, ‘I love them all.’”
In 1965, he co-founded Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Inc., a nonprofit community organization serving Corona, East Elmhurst and Jamaica, offering a multitude of services such as pre-kindergarten classes, youth sports, cultural arts, drug rehabilitation and elder care. The family moved to East Elmhurst in 1968 and lived there for 10 years before moving to Westbury in 1978, where they have resided ever since.
Watkins also co-founded the U.S. Youth Games for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, helped more than 1,800 student athletes acquire scholarships and, in 1970, was named “Father of Community Recreation,” by the National Recreation Association.
In 1978, he joined the staff of the National Basketball Association, where he served as observer scout, referee recruiter, assistant supervisor of officials and director of community and special programs, among other positions.
Watkins was the president and CEO of the National Pro-Am City Leagues Association, a nonprofit organization that creates sports programs and events in urban and suburban areas across the country.
He received many prestigious honors including the Queensboro President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Boy Scouts of America Recognition Award and the Basketball Congress International Commissioner of the Year Award. He has been inducted into both New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and the Adelphi University Athletic Hall of Fame.
“He pushed me to succeed and excel,” said daughter, Kara Watkins Tillman. “He was my mentor and my role model. He was a workaholic, but he enjoyed it so much it wasn’t really work to him.”
Tillman added that her father instilled in her the importance of following through, keeping one’s word and being on time. He also advised against ever making excuses.
“He used to say, ‘Excuses are well-planned lies,’” Tillman recalled.
Aside from his wife and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Keri Watkins, and twin granddaughters, Amadia and Elysia. Funeral services were held in the chapel at Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai, N.Y. where Watkins was cremated on Oct. 14. A memorial celebrating his life was also held on Nov. 1 at Adelphi University's Center for Recreation & Sports.
“I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared and loved and gave back to the community,” Watkins is quoted to have said about his life-.