obit template2018-11-29T12:10:12+00:00

Rodney Martin

From his earliest beginnings, Rodney Watkins had a thirst for learning. His greatest joy was found in his field of study, and he loved sharing the world of geology with others through teaching. A man who often kept to himself, Rodney possessed a quiet demeanor with a heart of gold. He treated everyone as an equal, even though he was a highly intelligent individual. Shy in many respects, his beloved Mary brought out the best in him. Although gone too soon from the arms of those who knew and loved him, Rodney will be deeply and forever missed.

After years of struggle through the Great Depression and World War II, the post war economy in 1949 was thriving in a consumer driven society. The demand for automobiles, homes, televisions and other household goods was at an all time high as the baby boom saw many young families head for newly developed suburbs. The entertainment world was thriving and the new Buick Roadmaster was the shape of things to come for the auto industry. In Jefferson County, Washington, a young, hard working miner named Stanley Watkins and his wife Joy (Martin) Watkins had much to be thankful for when on March 19, 1949 they welcomed the birth of a son they lovingly named Rodney Martin.

The first of two boys, Rodney was later joined by his younger brother Bruce. Although a life of mining had it’s share of hardships, Rodney and his family formed a close bond as they moved often to places where his father could find work. They lived for a time in many small towns scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest, some of which had no running water. Even so, Rodney and his brother Bruce experienced much while growing up and shared many adventures together.

Although their family moved often, education was a very important factor in their lives. From the very beginning, Rodney took to school and had a thirst for learning. A rather shy and quiet boy, he was quite an inquisitive young man who was extremely intrigued by the world of bugs. He even began to thoroughly study them. In time his interest gravitated to rocks and geology and would one day progress into quite an interesting career. In fact, his brother went on to become a land surveyor. Needless to say, each of Stanley Watkins’ boys went on to follow in their father’s footsteps in one form or another.

Rodney went on to further his education at the University of California at Berkeley where he attained his Bachelor and Masters degrees in geology and paleontology. He went on to further study at Oxford University where he received his Doctorate in philosophy. In the early 1980’s he married, and immediately became step-father to Korina. The family grew when they welcomed daughter, Mackenzie, to the family. Though the marriage did not last, he maintained a relationship with both girls and considered both a major blessing in his life. In time he began teaching at the University of Texas before moving to the University of California – Chico State until 1988. It was then when Rodney took a position at the Milwaukee Public Museum as a Curator Geologist all while serving as an adjunct Professor of Geology at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Rodney absolutely loved his field of work and was truly a lifelong academic.

Always one to be on the shy and reserved side, it was while working at the museum that Rodney became quite fond of Mary Grant who worked at the ticket window. At times they would share casual conversations, but on August 4, 2000 Rodney left his zone of comfort and followed his heart. Completely out of character, Rodney walked right up to the ticket counter and asked Mary out. She accepted and the two enjoyed a memorable dinner together at the Knickerbocker Hotel. Warmth was found in each other’s company that evening, and the feeling was mutual. Mary saw into Rodney’s heart and was attracted to his gentle and sensitive nature. She appreciated his intelligence and loved his generous heart and spirit. Attentive and affectionate, Mary enjoyed Rodney’s friendship and love.

On June 20, 2002 Rodney and Mary were married in a ceremony at the Milwaukee County Court House. They celebrated the occasion with dinner at Ma Fischer’s Restaurant. Rodney retired in May of 2005 when a reduction in personnel forced his work with the museum to be eliminated. Although retired, he never seemed to quite quench his thirst for learning or exploring his love for his field of study.

On August 3, 2005, Rodney suffered a stroke which left him unable to walk or even sit up in bed. In spite of the doctors’ prognosis, he battled to recover enough to return home to Mary. Rodney still needed around the clock care. His doctors, however, were amazed at his progress as he accomplished far more than they ever thought possible, even climbing stairs. All the while, Mary was by his side, encouraging and engaging him at every opportunity.

On May 20, 2010, Mary and Rodney were enjoying time at a friend’s home when Rodney unexpectedly died. Throughout his life he was blessed with many acquaintances and colleagues with whom he held in the highest regard. Rodney always accepted people at face value — seeing the good in everyone he met. Though highly educated, he never thought himself as better than anyone. His quiet courage and compassionate nature will be fondly remembered by all who knew him.

Rodney was the beloved husband of Mary; cherished father of Mackenzie Watkins; dear son of Stanley Watkins and Joy Carlin; a dear brother to Bruce Watkins; stepfather of Korina Stern; grandfather of T.J. and Alex, and he is further survived by many other relatives and friends. Family and friends will gather at the Suminski/Weiss Family Funeral Home on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 from 5:30 PM until time of the Memorial Service at 6:30 PM. Please visit to visit Rodney’s personal web page and leave a favorite memory, photo and to sign his online guest book.

Past Comments

Roger Hewitt

Dear Mary, I am sorry to hear of Rodney’s passing. I am very glad that you nursed him and were with him in the end. He was a good friend for 31 years. He will be missed.


Dick Rodstein

I saw Rodney’s picture in a museum. I am so sorry for his family. I wanted to do research on him but I found this instead. Rest In Peace Rodney. See ya soon up there.

Carol Burrows

Although I haven’t met you Mary, I felt the desire to express my sympathy to you. I am a friend of Jeff Ostach and he has informed me of your horrific evening at his new home. All I can say is that I am sorry for your loss, that you and your husband shared but a few years together, it is quality not quantity. I hope that the good memories you have of the love you shared with your husband provide you with strength at this time. If you ever need anything, please feel free to get my number from Jeff, I would be more than willing to give you a helping hand, even if it is just to talk or even to get out of the house, anything. I am a person who would help someone if the need arises. Please ask Jeff about the poem I sent to him to share with you if he hasn’t already. I pray you have strength in the days to come, if not, lean on your friends. I know this may be kind of weird coming from someone you have never met, but please accept my sympathies and please call me if you need anything. I would love to help you in any way if a need arises. Reading your husbands life story, gave me joy and saddness. I felt joy by seeing the life your husband lead, and joy that you and he fell in love, but saddness now that you will be separated from him. I do believe your husbands greatness will live on in some form at the musuem or in your memories. Please, do let me know if you ever need anything, I would be more than glad to assist you. Carol Burrows

Greg Candelaria

Mary: This makes me so incredibly sad. Sad because, though we have never met in person, I have come to call you friend. We live different lives over 1000 miles apart and we disagree on things politically. Those differences do not and never have made you less of a friend. I was fortunate to know your story of Rodney and witness the true love that you had for him. Our prayers go out to you for peace and comfort during this very difficult time. Cherish the memories and be thankful for the time you two did have together. Love, Greg

Jennifer Barron Anderson

My greatest sympathy goes out to Auntie Joy, Uncle Stan, cousin Bruce and Mary. There is really nothing anyone can say to ease the lose of a son, brother or husband. Just cherish all the great memories and remember the good times I am sure that he was greeted with a big hug by Honeymom, Papa and all the Watkins clan. Rod will always

be in our hearts…

Steve Sterling

Mary, after the premature passing of your mother, (my sister) not very long ago, I was very happy to hear of your new life with Rodney. I am so happy that me and Joni were able to meet Rodney & spend time with you last summer. I hoped to come home and spend more time but the good lord had other plans. I read the memories and appreciate the love and devotion that you two shared. I wish i were there to hug you and just help to support you during this trying period. Even though the miles separate us know that you are loved and we are just a phone call away.


  1. John Klinger June 17, 2021 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    I am very late in tendering my condolences, only just having learned of Rod’s death (it is now June, 2021). I wanted to discover if he was still in Milwaukee (where I learned of his curatorship c. 2000). I don’t even know if anyone will see this note.

    I met Rodney in his freshman (and my junior) year at CAL, both residents in Bowle’s Hall, a gothic structure a little grim inside. We were also two of four undergraduate students in the Invertebrate Paleontology class. As others have noted, Rod was shy and unassuming, but even after I changed majors, I still found him and the sketchbook he carried with him worth following. A year or two later, when I ran into him, he told me he changed his focus to paleo-mollusks in order to do his field work in the parts of Northern California he loved most. Although he was not yet sporting a beard then, the oversized hat made him the perfect picture of the rough and ready westerner, ala Joachim Miller or John Muir.

    My life led me further and further from Paleontology, but while visiting UC Paleo lab in the ‘70s I was delighted to find him there and fascinated to find him making statistical analyses of paleo-mollusk communities, a field now called Paleo-ecology and apparently owing much to Rodney’s work. Again, while keenly absorbed in his work then, he was modest about it, too.

    I was clueless about Rodney’s life after that until, inspired by another Bowle’s Hall friend and mutual acquaintance, I search for him on the internet and found him at the Milwaukee museum as curator. My effort to contact him was not successful, but I was gratified that he found a home of sorts (not that easy for paleontologists these days).

    It cheers me that Rod met and married Mary, but saddens me they had such a short time together. If I will be remembered with only a fraction of the high regard that Rodney is, I will be a lucky man and might consider my life well lived

  2. Kate Ely August 12, 2022 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Dear Watkins Family,
    I’m a fan of Dr. Rodney Watkins for he was so kind and patient with his students and a great teacher. I am a graduate of CSU, Chico (Geology, 1986) and Rodney was one of the field instructors for geology and an advisor for a senior class project. This past year I have returned to my geologic roots by joining a local geologic society and wondered what Rodney is doing these days. I’m sorry to hear of his passing, he will be dearly missed, Rodney will always be remembered fondly by his students and anyone lucky to have been in his company. RIP dear Rodney. I hope to become a fossil one day too.
    Katy Ely, Pendleton, Oregon

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