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Navy Admiral James D. Watkins, an Alhambra native, dies at 85

Navy Admiral James D. Watkins, who served under both presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, died July 26 at his home in Alexandria, Virginia at the age of 85, the Los Angeles Times is reporting.

Watkins was born in Alhambra on March 7, 1927, and grew up in Pasadena. His father, Edward Francis Watkins, worked for Southern California Edison and owned the Southern California Winery Co. while growing grapes in what is now San Marino.

Over the course of his 37-year naval career, Watkins served on ships and submarines during the Korean and Vietnam wars, and eventually rose to chief of naval operations in 1982, under Reagan's appointment. 

During the height of the AIDS epidemic, Reagan appointed him to lead the presidential commission tasked with researching strategies on how to deal with the crisis. In 1988, the commission, which became known as the Watkins Commission, released a report calling for further treatment and legislation banning discrimination against AIDS patients.

Under President Bush, Watkins became secretary of Energy, and pushed to expand domestic oil production during the Persian Gulf crisis. He also launched efforts for greater oil conservation as well as cleaning up coastal pollution. As head of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, he presented a report to President George W. Bush with hundreds of antipollution recommendations. Watkins' wife told the New York Times that cleaning up the oceans was his greatest passion.

Watkins became known as a free sprit throughout the government despite his conservative policies, even earning the nickname "Radio Free Watkins." His brother John, who lives in Pasadena told the LA Times, "He was strong. If you told him something, you better have done your homework. He would listen, but you better know what you were talking about."

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1 thought on “Navy Admiral James D. Watkins, an Alhambra native, dies at 85”

  1. He was the XO under which I served on the USS Long Beach. He did much to improve morale on board Long Beach. He even authorized an “early out” for me so that I could start college without having to wait till the following semester. I believe he did as excellent as CNO.