My father was the only child of Wilburn Joseph “Bill” Wilkinson and Bessie Agnes Rhodes Wilkinson. He was born in Beaumont, Jefferson County, Texas December 30, 1927.
He was close to his cousins, the Langstons of Hardin County Texas (grandfather’s sister Nettie Rosette Wilkinson & Pat Arthur Langston of Village Mills) and all the children of grandpa’s three brothers (Uncle Oscar “Onion”, Uncle Frank “Jep”, and Uncle Dave “Sonny”).
My grandfather was a strict man. He believed that children should be “seen & not heard”. He was a good man, just disciplined. My grandmother told me several stories about my father. Once, when my father was about 8 yrs old, he was sent around the corner to the barber shop to get a haircut. The barber was somehow related to them. I don’t recall the name or the relationship in detail. The barber kept my dad waiting all afternoon while he put man after man in front of him. Finally, when there were no other customers, the barber cut my father’s hair and sent him home. My grandfather was so mad that my father had taken so long, that grandpa spanked him hard. My grandmother went to the barber shop, confronted the cousin and told him of the trouble he had caused, to which he promised to never do that again.
When my father was in high school, (Beaumont High), he seldom paid attention to the girls. Instead he focused on airplanes and motorcycles. He made my grandmother a wooden step-stool that I remember using even into my teenage years. I also have the yellow table cloth he made for my grandmother. He had stamped brown, single engine airplanes around the border!
In his high school year book, there are several remarks about how he thought more about airplanes than the pretty girls in class. He took flying lessons in high school and worked for a time as a crop duster for M & M Air Service (crop dusting service) in Nome, Tex.
Between 1946 and 1948 dad was in the Navy and attended officers training in Orlando, FL.
My father was briefly married to a Marilyn Lane in 1950 . I have been told that she was a beauty but not much of a housekeeper. She had red hair and I always imagined her as a Rita Hayworth type. I have never seen a photo of her. There were no children born of this marriage.
Dad and his friends would go to Tyrrell Park off of Hwy 124 and race their motorcycles in circles. They would put a tire in the center of the clearing and then go round and round and whomever was left upright won.
He raced in the Daytona 200 (Florida) in 1951. During the race, the gas tank blew-up, catching my father’s head between the tank and the handlebars. The result was a head injury where his head was split from ear to ear (over the top of the skull). He spent a month in the hospital. My grandparents went to Daytona and stayed in a motel kitchenette near the hospital while dad recovered. Once he had recovered, he continued racing until my younger brother was born in 1955.
An email exchange with George Holter (# 60K) revealed the following: “At [the] Daytona Beach race, because there were so many entries, some riders had a different race number on their race bike. The AMA ISSUED your Dad # 31 for this race only. You can tell by the lap count, that by lap 10 he had moved up to 6th place and by lap 20 was in 5th place with only 4 laps to go–that is when he crashed.”
George and his brother Fred Holter were able to provide copies of paperwork demonstrating that dad did indeed race at the EXPERT level. (Thanks you two!)
In 1952 my mother, Billie L. Ratliff, met my dad at the Motor Lunch Drive-in on Rail Road Ave near Washington Blvd. in Beaumont. She was hopping cars and he was racing Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the side while working at Pure Oil in Beaumont as a laborer. He hung around with Everett Brashear and Tommy Byars at Byars’ motorcycle shop.
In 1953 dad won the Texas State Championship in Houston. He was in Sedalia, MO on Aug. 22, 1953 and in Norton, KS on Aug. 13, 1954. (see “copies of paperwork”)
George Holter provided the following information:
RACE NEWS: These races were AMATUER NATIONAL RACES IN 1952. Your Dad did the following–
WILLAMSGROVE, PA 5 MILE AMATUER NATIONAL 82 M 5th Place
SPRINGFIELD, IL 10 MILE AMATUER ( MILE TRACK ) NATIONAL 82 M 6th Place
In 1955 my dad set the track record in Dodge City, Kansas because the track was lengthened after that season. It was during this race that my brother (yet unborn) would get his name. Mom and dad had attended this race with Tommy and another young racer named Keith Barkley. Tommy won Expert, dad won Amateur and mom told Keith, “We’ve taken the first two trophies, if you win Novice we’ll take all three home to Beaumont and if this baby is a boy, I’ll name him after you!” Keith won, they brought all three trophies home and when my brother was born June 4, 1955, he was named Keith Lacy, after the young racer and after dad. (My mom was the only woman who was allowed in the Pit as she had a “Pit Card”.)
Sometime after the birth of my youngest brother, Shannon, my father spent some time as a “counter man” at the Pig Stand Drive-in on Calder Ave but attended college classes at Lamar Tech (now Lamar University).
My parent’s marriage lasted about 6 years. Keith, Shannon and I went to live with our paternal grandparents in Beaumont. We lived with Grandpa & Grandma Wilkinson until about 1962. Dad had married Lillian Olga (nee Ecker) Newell of Houston (her family was originally from San Antonio). She had been a nurse and was once married to an airline pilot. She had 3 sons by Mr. Newell, Richard (Ricky), Terry, and Kenneth (Kenny). The last time I saw any of them was 1995.
My grandparents asked if we wanted to stay with them or go to Houston with dad & Lillian. Keith & I moved to Houston while Shannon stayed with my grandparents. I always regretted that decision.
Dad joined Quintana Petroleum Company of Houston in 1960 as a corporate pilot. He was well liked by his bosses, the Cullens of Houston. He flew many places during his 7 years with the company.
Once, when I was about 10 years old, he was taking the Lt. Gov. of Texas back to Austin and I was able to go along! I don’t recall much about the passenger but I do remember seeing the lights of Austin on the horizon while we were about 3000 ft in the air. What a beautiful sight!
I had always wanted to get my pilot’s license, like my father but was never able to due to lack of funds. My eldest step-brother was able to take advantage of the lack of a Will (dad had one, and had left his parents as the administrators, but it mysteriously disappeared) and used the money his mother received from my father’s estate to obtain his college education and pilot’s license. I think he still lives in Houston and in fact was given my father’s house, by his mother, Lillian.
Another item that had disappeared was the rifle my father made in the garage. I remember his working on it when we lived on Glenmar Street in the Beverly Hills addition of southern Houston. Years later I learned that my step-mother had given it to her youngest son.
By anyone’s moral standards, my father’s rifle should have gone to his son, my brother Keith. Lillian had a way of keeping things that did not belong to her and giving them away with little consideration of anyone else other than her family. No wonder my father was going to divorce her, had he lived long enough. How beneficial for Lillian that he died so soon. How beneficial the Will was never found.
I think her behavior was the tale-tell mark…on the day of the funeral, everyone met at our home in Sagemont. My mother walked in on Lillian in the bathroom and found her “dancing a jig” in front of the mirror. Certainly not the behavior of a grieving widow.
Some time later my dad’s parents had his body exhumed from the Houston cemetery and re-interned in Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Beaumont where they had a family plot. Lillian “threw a forked fit”, grandpa told me many years later. What should she have cared? I wondered if she was afraid forensic test may be done? Some thing like a test for strychnine poisoning?
My father was very strong in his political beliefs. During the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964, my father built a “Barry Goldwater for President” sign the size of an advertising billboard and mounted it on the roof of our house. At that time we were living on Glenmar in the Beverly Hills Addition off of Kingspoint in south Houston. The Almeda Mall was still just cow pasture.
We attended the King of Glory Lutheran Church (founded in 1961 by the Rev. Gordon Spong), 10050 Fuqua, South Houston. There was a story of how one of the church members lost some money in a poker game and my dad found the guys who “won” the money, played them for the money that was lost and won it all back….or so the story went.