Lewis Henry Wilkinson Jr., 98, ex-salesman

Lewis H. Wilkinson
Lewis H. Wilkinson
Posted: July 08, 2013

Once Lewis Henry Wilkinson Jr.'s failing vision had precluded him from driving a car, he bought himself a sturdy tricycle.

That was a Wilkinson move, his friends said. He wouldn't let his age or declining health get to him.

Social as always, Mr. Wilkinson would drive his three-wheel bike around Haddon Township and Collingswood to buy groceries, run errands, and chat with old friends.

Mr. Wilkinson, 98, died Sunday, June 23, at AristaCare in Cherry Hill, where he had been living for the last few years.

Known as "Uncle Lew" to his family, Mr. Wilkinson, who did not have children, was a dear uncle to his many nieces and nephews, said family friend and self-described nephew Bill Lewis.

"He was a fun-loving man ... a constant figure in family life," said Lewis, who had known him since the early 1950s.

Born in Jetersville, Va., Mr. Wilkinson was one of five children. His family moved to Chester when he was young. In 1942 Mr. Wilkinson enlisted in the Army and served in India and Burma.

Mr. Wilkinson was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant and two Bronze Stars. Upon his return, he enrolled at Temple University.

During his first week of college, he asked a young woman for directions to the library.

"She was taking summer classes and she directed him to the library, and a romance started," Lewis said.

Mr. Wilkinson graduated from Temple in 1949. Two years later, he married Mary Louise Harris, the student who directed him to the library. However, it wasn't until many years later that Mr. Wilkinson told his wife his real age.

"He thought girls wouldn't date him because he was older," his niece Mary Lou Watkins said. "He knocked off five years."

The couple moved to her parents' home in Collingswood. Mr. Wilkinson worked as a salesman for International Business Machines Corp. for several years after college. He later worked in sales for a stationery company, his family said.

When his wife's parents became ill, it was Mr. Wilkinson who cared for them in the home they shared.

"He was a very good man," said a longtime friend of the Wilkinsons', Beverly Genetta. "He looked after his in-laws, which allowed them to stay at home and not in a nursing home."

Genetta and her husband were part of a dinner club with the Wilkinsons. Mr. Wilkinson was known as a cook, with his specialties being a pot roast or a Chicken Lewy, a take on Chicken Marengo, family and friends said.

During the summers, Mr. Wilkinson and his wife would go to their Shore house in Ocean City and often host family gatherings.

Mr. Wilkinson would again be the master chef, cooking up seafood feasts, family and friends recalled.

Mr. Wilkinson became very active in the Art Aware program in Camden, which teaches youths about art and takes them to the orchestra and other performances in Philadelphia.

"Lew would go on the bus Saturday mornings to the children's concert," Genetta said. "He was very good with children."

Mr. Wilkinson's wife died in 1999 after a battle with Shy-Drager syndrome.

He continued to be active, playing golf and riding his bicycle around the Cooper River, as his age crept up.

He also would still make himself dinner and as a result of kitchen catastrophes became friendly with the Westmont Fire Company firefighters.

"I would tell him, 'Dinner is not done when the firemen come,' " Watkins said, laughing, recalling that the kitchen would often smoke up.

Watkins lived with him for 12 years until Mr. Wilkinson moved to the retirement community.

It wasn't until his early 90s when his eyes started to fail and he had to stop driving.

"Being Lew, he wouldn't let that stop him," Genetta said. "He got a large tricycle."

Up until two years ago, at 96, he would still ride to the Collingswood farmers market or a nearby grocery and fill up his tricycle basket with items for dinner.

A graveside urn burial and service with military honors will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 17, at Lakeview Memorial Park, Cinnaminson.

Memorial donations may be made to Westmont Fire Company No. 1, 120 Haddon Ave., Westmont, N.J. 08108, with the name Lewis Wilkinson Jr. in the memo field.

Condolences may be offered to the family at www.mccannhealey.com.

Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/camden_flow.

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