Former Natchez mayor Watkins dies at 77

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Troy Watkins, a former Natchez mayor and state senator who left a lasting impact on higher education in the community, died Friday evening.

Watkins, 77, was instrumental in establishing the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, which now shares land with Alcorn State University.

Watkins and his wife, Margaret, were the parents of five children.

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&uot;He was the whole man,&uot; longtime friend Marion Smith said Friday night. &uot;He was interested in family, church and community.&uot;

Watkins was a 30-year-old newcomer to Natchez when he was elected the city’s youngest mayor in 1956. The son of a Methodist minister, he had grown up in different Mississippi towns and held bachelor’s and masters degrees in history, from Millsaps College and the University of Mississippi, respectively.

Watkins served as mayor until 1964, but his political career did not end there. He ran for state Senate and served from 1972 to 1980, following Smith’s term. At one point Watkins ran a strong race for lieutenant governor.

&uot;He was a very progressive mayor,&uot; recalled Tony Byrne, himself a former Natchez mayor. &uot;But he had higher ambitions in politics.&uot;

One of the things Byrne said he carried on in his own administration was Watkins’ work to improve streets.

&uot;He was very determined &045;&045; some might say hard-headed,&uot; Byrne said with a soft chuckle.

&uot;He was very dogmatic,&uot; he said, noting some political battles Watkins took on against some of the more powerful members of the state Senate.

But perhaps Watkins’ most lasting impact on Natchez is in the role he played to establish the Co-Lin campus.

&uot;Co-Lin is as much Troy Watkins’ baby as anyone else’s,&uot; Smith said.

At the time, Smith said, the University of Southern Mississippi had been granted permission to establish a two-year program here &045;&045; for the third and fourth years. So Watkins lobbied to establish a community college branch to help round out the campus.

He enlisted several community leaders to invest in the property, which was later bought by the state, Byrne said.

Education remained an important focus for Watkins later in life.

&uot;Our future is in education,&uot; Watkins told The Democrat in early 2002. &uot;It costs money to educate our children, but it costs five times as much to keep them in the penitentiary.&uot;

Even after he served in office, Watkins was interested in community affairs, including economic development. He worked hard to keep industrial development an important issue.

But Watkins was also a family man who was devoted to his church. Deeply religious, he was the son of a Methodist minister.

&uot;He was one of the bulwarks of Grace United Methodist,&uot; Smith said. &uot;He lived his religion.&uot;

Smith also called Watkins &uot;a great family man.&uot;

&uot;He was always more into the public welfare than his own welfare,&uot; Smith said. &uot;He was selfless.&uot;

Former Natchez mayor Watkins dies at 77