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Elbert 'Tex' Watkins, beloved grocer, dies at 88

ELBERT WATKINS went from breaking wild horses and riding Brahman bulls in Texas to running a popular grocery in West Philadelphia.

ELBERT WATKINS went from breaking wild horses and riding Brahman bulls in Texas to running a popular grocery in West Philadelphia.

An unusual odyssey to be sure, but Tex Watkins, as he was known to family and friends, was at home in all the many worlds he inhabited in a long life.

He died Tuesday from complications of a stroke. He was 88 and lived in Overbrook.

His grocery, Tex's Variety, at 55th and Thompson streets, was a neighborhood landmark from 1959 until 1984, when he retired and leased the business.

Its popularity came largely from Tex's friendly manner and desire to help people who needed him, whether with kind counsel or groceries when a family had to put off paying the bill for a time.

"He was a man of service," said his son Reginald "Reggie" Showers, a world champion motorcycle racer.

Tex was born in Winchester, Tex., to Ishman and Gertrude Watkins. He grew up in San Antonio. He enlisted in the Army and attained the rank of staff-sergeant.

In his youth, he broke wild horses brought by their owners to a livestock corral to be sold. He also rode bulls, apparently in rodeos, although his family wasn't sure about that.

His son Reggie was a multi-event champion motorcycle rider in races run by the National Hot Rod Association despite having lost both legs below the knee at the age of 14 when he contacted power lines on top of a freight train in a West Philadelphia rail yard.

"My dad was with me through every step of my rehabilitation and ensured me that I would be fine despite my disability," Reggie said. "I don't know if I could have made it without his love and support.

"He was my role model, my hero and my source of inspiration and encouragement as I went on to become a world champion motorcycle racer.

"Ever since I was a small child I always wanted to race motorcycles professionally. My dad told me that whatever I wanted to do I could achieve it with hard work, education, focus and sacrifice."

Reggie, 44, is now a motivational speaker, telling young people his own story and how he overcame his handicap, while also passing along his father's can-do philosophy.

Tex arrived in Philadelphia in 1947 and went to work as a truck driver for Atlantic Refining Co., before starting his own business. Shortly after his arrival here, he met Barbara Cole Showers, a widow with five young children. They were married soon after their meeting.

Barbara, who was working as a teacher's aide at the William B. Hanna School in West Philadelphia, said, "He was my everything. What a wonderful human being he was. So kind and gentle. A true gentleman in every sense of the word.

"I was a widow who was working extremely hard to support my five small children when I met Tex. He embraced my children as his own and supported us all as one family.

"I'm so glad he's not suffering any longer," his wife said. "He's in a better place and he's waiting for us all to come and join him."

"A natural born leader he was," said his sister, Gertrude Scott, of Corpus Christi, Tex.

"Elbert had leader qualities even as a boy," she said. "He was very responsible and was entrusted with managerial positons by all who he worked for."

Tex could also cook up some mean barbecue ribs.

Besides his wife, son and sister, he is survived by two daughters, Brenda Showers Avery and Diane Showers, and another son, Raymond Showers, and more than 20 grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. Monday at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. *