Edwin Herren Watkins was an investment analyst and adviser for Field Enterprises and Chicago's Field family for 52 years.
"He was one of those people who was a brilliant guy in investments, and was keenly insightful when reviewing investments," said former Chicago Sun-Times publisher Marshall Field V. "He was a great help to the business and a joy to have in the same room."
Watkins, 92, died of congestive heart failure on May 4 at NorthShore Evanston Hospital, said his wife of 64 years, Carol. He had lived in Winnetka for a half century until moving to Evanston three years ago.
Born and raised in Evanston, Watkins was the great-grandnephew of Alonzo Mather, who had founded and run the Chicago-based freight car manufacturer Mather Stock Car Co. As a boy, Watkins was in the stands during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, when Babe Ruth famously hit his "called shot" home run against the Chicago Cubs, said Watkins' son, David.
After graduating from Evanston Township High School in 1942, Watkins enrolled at Amherst College. He left school in 1945 to serve in the Navy during World War II, serving as an anti-aircraft fire control officer on the USS Los Angeles cruiser ship.
Watkins returned to Amherst after the war, graduating in 1946. After college, he worked for U.S. Gypsum and then as a time-study engineer at the Mather Stock Car factory in Chicago Ridge. With the sale of Mather in the late 1950s, Watkins exited to join corporate financial adviser Duff Anderson & Clark — now Duff & Phelps — for several years.
In the mid-1960s, Watkins joined Field Enterprises, which was owned by the heirs of the Marshall Field & Co. department store chain. In those days, Field Enterprises' holdings included WFLD-Ch. 32, the World Book Encyclopedia and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other assets. Watkins also managed some family trusts and served on the investment committee of the Field Foundation.
Oliver Nicklin, the founder of Chicago-based First Analysis Corp., chairs the Field Foundation's investment committee and worked for many years with Watkins on the foundation's charitable investing endeavors.
"He was a great believer in people. He loved to invest in people, whether they were good CEOs, good managers or even good neighbors," Nicklin said. "He thought the key to successful investing or anything in life was good people and being supportive of them. He also never would let a bad market get him down. If he believed in an investment, come hell or high water, he would stay with it."
Nicklin also recalled that as a manager, Watkins "stressed excellence" and was resolute about recognizing the contributions of his team.
"He was a great investor but he always gave credit to everybody else," Nicklin said.
Watkins never fully retired, and for the past decade had been working three days a week instead of five, his wife said.
Watkins also served on the board of the Mather Foundation for 32 years and served as its president and chairman for 24 of those years. During his time on the board, he brought in a new team to redevelop two Evanston retirement communities it oversees, the Mather and the Georgian.
Outside of work, Watkins was very athletic and enjoyed partaking in sports even at an advanced age. His wife noted that he skied until he was 89 and continued windsurfing and playing tennis three times a week until the month before he died. He especially enjoyed skiing at Jackson Hole, Wyo., his wife said.
Other interests included traveling, reading and playing bridge, his wife said.
In addition to his wife and son, Watkins is survived by another son, Frank; two daughters, Cynthia and Nancy; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Services were held.
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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