By Andrew Pouncey
Bill Watkins was born in Wardell, MO (Pemiscot County) on December 15, 1941. The family lived on a rural route associated with a post office box in Steele, MO. Bill went to school in Braggadocio, where he was one of 23 in his high school class. He participated in high school sports and 4-H. Braggadocio was small enough to where you knew everyone.
The Watkins family is Welsh, immigrating from Great Britain. His mother’s family was from the Netherlands. His grandfather was Isaiah Watkins who was born in Pulaski County, TN, served in the Mexican American War, and the Civil War where he served on the U.S.S. Tawa, a convoy and patrol vessel on Confederate waterways.
Bill’s father was one of 10 brothers and sisters. He purchased the family farm in 1947, growing cotton and beans and raising cattle.
Bill was one of five brothers. Three became CPAs, one an electrical engineer and one an industrial engineer. Bill began his studies at Draughon’s Business College, then joined the United States Marines.
Bill signed on with the Marine Corps as a Corporal E4 from January 1960 to January 1964 and served in Yokosuka, Japan for two years from March 1961 to March 1963. Yokosuka was the U.S. Naval 7th Fleet Headquarters for Asia and the Pacific. He served with base security. Bill finished out of Camp Lejeune. When his service was complete, in January 1964, he returned home to attend Harding College on a basketball scholarship. He transferred in the Fall of ’64 to Memphis State University. In his last year of college there, he interned with Rhea & Ivy.
Jeanette worked in Student Affairs while she finished her studies at the University of Memphis, graduating in 1969. After graduation, Jeanette taught Home Economics & Business at Collierville High School. He and Jeanette, who had also grown up in Wardell, met at the United States Department of Agriculture in Caruthersville, MO. They have a daughter, Cynthia Renee, a son William Howard, III, and three grandchildren.
Upon completing his degree, he was first offered a job in Kingston, NY, to which he said no. His first job was with Chevron in New Orleans. Bill began his career in public accounting, returning to Rhea & Ivy in August of ’67, where he continued for three years until September of ’70 as a Staff Accountant with a promotion to Senior Accountant.
He then worked as a controller for Guardsmark, the sixth-largest industrial security firm in the United States. Bill also worked as the divisional controller for a Guardsmark subsidiary involved in the construction of schools, hospitals, and new commercial buildings and was active in acquisitions and mergers for the company.
He left there November 30, 1971, to transition back into public accounting when the opportunity arose to start the firm of Watkins and (Bob) Watkins, CPAs, a 50-year partnership. They became Watkins Watkins & Keenan, before merging with Michael Uberall on January 1, 2000, to form Watkins Uberall, PLLC, the largest such firm locally with 90 people. They offer a comprehensive suite of services including assurance, accounting, tax consulting, merger and acquisition assistance, and management consulting.
Bill was an honors graduate of Memphis State University College of Business and a Certified Public Accountant in Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. He is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants. He has served on the state political sub-committee of the Tennessee Society of CPAs.
Growing up, Bill’s parents often talked Farm Bureau politics around the kitchen table. Bill became involved in politics because he watched the news and listened to his parents’ conversations at meals. Bill has been active in Tennessee Republican Party politics since 1969. They lived in Sherwood Forest, off Park Avenue, and would make calls and deliver literature for Curtis Person and Ed Williams. He became a precinct captain and became familiar with Don Sunquist, and Jim & Carolyn Gates.
They moved to the west side of Germantown on Poplar Estates Parkway and got to know other politicians, including, Lewis R. Donelson and Dan Kuykendall. Watkins Uberall would assist politicians with compliance on spending, including contribution limits at election time.
Bill was Treasurer for Don Sunquist’s executive committee in 1975-76, when Don was Chair of the Shelby County Republican Party. Bill has been active in Tennessee government politics since the mid-1970s. Don joined Bill’s growing list of clients. He aided Lamar Alexander in his successful campaign for Governor in ’78, serving from 1979-1987. He was a member of Bill Morris’ kitchen cabinet, alongside Bobby Lanier, for Shelby County Mayor, and aided both Don Sunquist’s 1982 congressional campaign and 1994 gubernatorial campaign. He worked for Boyd Maize’s race for Germantown Alderman and the Salvaggio and Goldsworthy’s races for Mayor. He even ran for Germantown Aldermen twice.
Bill continues to serve as a mentor to many, and together they live in Devonshire PUD. He serves as Treasurer of the Germantown Historical Preservation Association. In their spare time, Bill and Jeanette enjoy spending time with family, golf, and travel.