Byron Cole Watkins of Bowling Green, Kentucky, age 91, passed away peacefully on January 15, 2024. He is preceded in death by his parents, Jordan Cole and Elizabeth Watkins, and his brother Yancey Lee Watkins.
He is survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Martha Suddarth Watkins; sons, Byron Murray Watkins (Laura Michele) of Columbia, KY, David Hunter Watkins, of Bowling Green, KY, William Gregory Watkins (Lisa) of Madisonville, KY; brother John (Linda) Watkins of Memphis, TN; grandchildren John (Rives) Watkins, of Clarksville, TN, and Kaitlin Watkins Bailey, of Rock Hill, SC and great-grandson Davis Cole Bailey also of Rock Hill, SC.
Byron was an Administrator for the Hopkins County Board of Education most of his working life, having retired with over 40 years as a professional educator. Byron completed both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at Western Kentucky University, where he was also a member of the baseball team. He began his career as an educator and coach at Caverna Independent Schools in Cave City before spending three years as a basketball coach and high school English teacher at Sebree High School, followed by two years as Principal at White Plains School. He then spent a decade as the Principal of Anton School, before finally serving the Kentucky Department of Education as School District Assistant Superintendent in Hopkins County. Byron was selected to receive the first Outstanding Director of Pupil Transportation Award in the state of Kentucky by the Kentucky Association for Pupil Transportation and also received an Outstanding Leadership Award from the Kentucky Association of School Administrators.
He was proud to have served in the 100th Division of the United States Army Reserve for 30 years and retired with the rank of Colonel in 1985. Byron had many interests and was a member of Phi Delta Kappa, E.W. Turner Lodge #548 F&AM in Earlington, was a Kentucky Colonel, Duke of Paducah, and received a key to My Old Kentucky Home.
One of Byron's greatest contributions to his community was through his service in the Madisonville Lions Club. He served in numerous offices at the local, district, state, and international levels, including a stint as President of the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation. Receiving Lion of the Year twice, named a Melvin Jones Fellow, a Life Patron and Gold Life Patron of the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation, he was the first Lion from Madisonville to be inducted into the Kentucky Lions Hall of Fame. He was awarded a Knight of the Blind and received two international President's Leadership Awards.
Byron was a dedicated and lifelong fan of Western Kentucky University and his beloved Hilltoppers. As a second-generation graduate, Byron was a season ticket holder for both football and basketball for over 45 years. He was a lifetime member of the WKU Alumni Association, the Hilltoppers Athletic Foundation and the W Club. One of Byron’s favorite memories was playing collegiate baseball and lettering on the WKU team coached by EA Diddle. Byron shared his passion for the Hilltoppers with his three sons and two grandchildren, and he never missed an opportunity to share the experience of attending a WKU game with his family.
A celebration of life memorial service will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, consider donating to Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation or WKU Hilltoppers Athletic Fund.
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