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Theodore Thomas 'Ted' Watkins: Longtime Dallas NAACP leader

Theodore Thomas "Ted" Watkins devoted much of his adult life to the fight for social justice.

Theodore Thomas "Ted" Watkins devoted much of his adult life to the fight for social justice.

He was a student of Dallas civil rights icon Juanita Craft and served four terms as president of the Dallas NAACP branch.

Mr. Watkins, 57, died Tuesday of complications from congestive heart failure at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

Services will be at 1 p.m. today at St. Stephen Community Church, 1001 W. Danieldale Road in DeSoto. He will be buried at Laurel Land Cemetery.

Mr. Watkins' wife, Deborah Watkins, is Dallas' city secretary. His nephew is Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Mr. Watkins was an all-round leader who energized the NAACP, said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

"As president of the NAACP, he was involved in creating opportunities for people ...," Mr. West said. "His advice and counsel to many will be missed."

Mr. Watkins got his start in community affairs working closely with Mrs. Craft, said former Dallas City Council member Leo Chaney. The two men had been friends since junior high school.

Mr. Watkins was committed to the causes he believed in, said his son, Kurt Watkins of Dallas.

"He always wanted the best," he said. "He was always trying to push for more."

Mr. Watkins was born in Tyler, Texas, but grew up in Dallas, where he graduated from James Madison High School in 1969.

"Teddy was president of our student council my senior year," Mr. Chaney said.

Mr. Watkins earned a bachelor's degree in business from what is now the University of North Texas. He started his professional career working for Texas Comptroller Bob Bullock in Austin and Dallas, his son said.

Mrs. Craft inspired Mr. Watkins to become involved in the community, his son said.

Kurt Watkins remembers his family frequently seeing Mrs. Craft at her home, the Watkins home and the NAACP offices.

"We have a flag in our house that she gave to him when they went to the White House and met the president," Mr. Watkins said.

In 1980, Mr. Watkins was elected to his first term as president of the Dallas branch of the NAACP, a volunteer position.

Mr. Watkins' election was a seismic shift, wresting control of the Dallas NAACP from the heavy influence of area preachers, Mr. Chaney said.

"Teddy challenged the political establishment when he chose to run to be president of the Dallas chapter," Mr. Chaney said.

Mr. Watkins worked hard to create a U.S. congressional district in North Texas, "where a person of color could possibly win," Mr. Chaney said.

At times, his father appeared to work too hard, his son said.

"He was always probably more devoted to things than he should have been," his son said. "Even though that was a volunteer position - that was his life."

If he felt someone was the victim of prejudice or social injustice "he fought for them," Mr. Watkins said.

In October 1987, Mr. Watkins stepped down as branch president when he was suspended by the national NAACP board of directors following accusations that he had mishandled branch finances.

At the time, Mr. Watkins said factors beyond his control created financial problems that led to his suspension.

"You have to remember that his election was against the then-black political establishment," Mr. Chaney said. "He came out of the blue to win the race. There were a lot of folks throwing stones at him."

Mr. Watkins formally resigned his post in February 1988. He was banned from holding an NAACP office for seven years. His most recent NAACP service included a seat on the 16-member executive committee of the Dallas NAACP branch.

Mr. Watkins' professional career included working for AEG Olympia, the accounting firm.

More recently, he owned three Blimpie International sandwich locations in Arlington and Dallas.

"All in all, I think he was an effective political leader, certainly as it relates to getting people involved and being able to communicate with the business community, which was important," Mr. Chaney said.

In addition to his son and wife, Mr. Watkins is survived by another son, Ryan Thomas Watkins of Dallas; a brother, Richard "Duke" Watkins of Dallas; four sisters, Marijo Vaughn of Arlington, Pamela Meachem of Arlington, Paula Morgan of Dallas and Sharon Watkins of Dallas; and one grandchild.

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