Wednesday, July 24, 2013 'Obituary: Dr. Thomas Wilkins Dies at 83. For more than 40 years, Wilkins worked to better lives of those around Reston.'

Dr. Thomas Wilkins with Reston founder Robert Simon. Wilkins, a longtime Reston resident and civil rights activist, passed away Saturday, July 20 at the age of 83. Photo by Alex McVeigh

By Alex McVeigh
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
— When Dr. Thomas Wilkins moved to Reston in 1969, he said he did so because it was “an island of equality in a sea of inequality.” Wilkins passed away Saturday, July 20 at the age of 83, having spent 44 years trying to make Reston a stronger community.

“I’m a Restonian,” Wilkins said in 2005, while discussing Reston’s history of inclusiveness for people of all races. “I’m fighting for what will make our community, not one of the best, but the best community in the United States."

He served in the Army, and graduated from Saint Paul’s College before spending a number of years working for the Department of Labor. Later, he was a staff member to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Tom Davis, who would go on to become a congressman.

More recently, he worked with Warren Thompson of Thompson Hospitality, who runs American Tap Room in Reston.

Tammi Petrine, a member of the Reston Citizens Association, remembered Wilkins fondly as the man who officiated the wedding of her son and daughter-in-law at her home in Reston. She remembers the special bond Wilkins formed with their then three-year-old grandson Robbie.

“Quite a beautiful pair they made; the very tall, distinguished gentleman and a very short, curly haired nymph. Throughout the evening, Dr. Wilkins’ kindness never waived as his little shadow followed him step for step. At the end of the evening when Tom walked outside to leave, Robbie raced after him to bestow a big hug and kiss for his new friend,” she said. “The cliché that small children are the best judges of fine character certainly held true on this magical night as our family's seminal event was enriched by the charms of a great man whose life was dedicated to improving this very complex world.”

Carol Ann Bradley, past chair of the Reston Community Center and former principal of Terraset Elementary School, said Wilkins was one of the first people she met when she moved to Reston 40 years ago. “I will always remember Tom first and foremost as a loving father and husband,” she said. “The Wilkins home was always a place where my children and I felt welcome, it was filled with food, fun and family. He was a wonderful, caring friend who was always excited to help others.”

WILKINS WAS RECOGNIZED for his propensity to help others in 1997, when he was recognized as Best of Reston during the annual awards ceremony.

One of the most lasting parts of his legacy is the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Foundation, which he helped found in 1999.

“He founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Foundation as a member of the Martin Luther King Christian Church, with the idea that the church would organize it, incorporate it and eventually turn it over to the community, which is what happened,” said Roger Lewis, a member of the foundation. “His vision was that the needs of the community wouldn’t be met by just a faith-based organization, but with the efforts of the whole community.”                     

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