Elbert Watkins, 88, a Texas cowboy who rode wild horses and bulls and later owned a popular West Philadelphia corner deli, Tex's Variety, died of a stroke Tuesday at Kindred Hospital in Havertown.
Raised in San Antonio, Mr. Watkins, known as "Tex," began breaking wild horses for La Grange Livestock when he was a teen. He also rode bulls and had a scar for life on one of his palms where a Brahman gored him.
Mr. Watkins enlisted in the Army during World War II and drove trucks Stateside until his discharge in 1946.
He moved to Philadelphia in 1947 to work as a truck driver for Atlantic Refining Co. Mr. Watkins rose through the ranks to manager of trucking before leaving the petroleum firm in the late 1950s.
Mr. Watkins' cowboy days were over, but he retained tough determination. He opened Tex's Variety in 1959 at 55th and Thompson Streets and dispensed groceries, often on credit, along with words of wisdom to neighborhood children. The store was a West Philadelphia landmark where neighbors gathered until he sold it in 1984.
Mr. Watkins married Barbara Cole, a widow with five children, and worked hard to support them. The couple had a son, Reginald, who eventually became a world-champion motorcycle racer. At 14, Reginald lost both legs below the knees in an electrical accident.
"My father was my rock," his son said. "He was with me through my rehabilitation and gave me the confidence to achieve whatever I wanted in life." Mr. Watkins' son races under the name Reginald Showers and is a motivational speaker.
Mr. Watkins was known for his "killer barbecue ribs," his son said. "The secret was the mesquite wood friends shipped to him from Texas to smoke the pork." He bequeathed his secret sauce recipe to his sons.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Watkins is survived by daughters Brenda Showers-Avery, Diane Showers; another son, Raymond Showers; 10 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and a sister. Son Herman Showers died in 1976.
Friends may visit at 9 a.m. today at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St. The funeral follows at 11.