Henry Neal Wilkerson, 102: Secret was ‘just keep living’

Those who knew Henry Neal Wilkerson say he was a man of high standards, integrity and generosity.

“If you looked in his face, you could see there was so much wisdom and knowledge,” said Marie Robertson.

Robertson worked as a Wal-Mart greeter and said she was impressed each time he walked into the store. “I met him when he was 97. Every time I saw him coming I’d get so excited,” she said. “He was soft-spoken and kind. He was the perfect gentleman.”

The second-oldest of nine children, Henry Neal Wilkerson, of Newnan died Nov. 5 of natural causes. He was 102. A funeral service was held Saturday at Greater Mt. Zion AME Church, 12 Richard Allen Dr., Newnan. Sellers-Smith Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.

“He gave a lot of wisdom that I’ll pass to my grandchildren,” said his nephew George Burks. “He was trusted and his word was his bond. I hope I am like him.”

Elaine Burks, his niece, noted his sense of humor: “People would always ask him what was his secret. He would say, ‘Just keep living’ and he would start laughing,” she said. “They were thinking they would hear something else.”

Burks recalls moving to Atlanta and into an apartment when she had no furniture. Wilkerson brought her a bed, a sofa and more. “He told me, ‘you ain’t sleepin’ on no floor’ ” she said.

He was dedicated to his family. Wilkerson’s sister, Inez Wilkerson Robinson, remembers he bought her a car so she would be able to visit Burks, her daughter, at Florida A&M University.

“He always wanted his sisters do do well, and we did,” said Wilkerson Robinson. “He instilled in us to do our best.”

Wilkerson received his elementary and high school education from McClelland Academy in Newnan. He was an artist and singer who was a part of a high school quartet. He then attended Georgia Normal and Agricultural College in Albany.

He served in the U. S. Army at Fort Benning, where he attained the rank of sergeant. He received an honorable discharge.

“He was a wonderful adviser,” said his daughter, Evelyn Wilkerson Searcy.

In his younger days Wilkerson worked as a painter, carpenter and handyman, often working side-by-side with his father on selected projects. He eventually established his own painting business, which was noted for professional and trustworthy service. His expertise was in demand throughout Coweta County.

He was known for being meticulous in his work: “Whatever he did, it had to be done well,” said Wilkerson Robinson. “Customers would be so happy,” Wilkerson Searcy added.

Wilkerson also helped build his wife a beauty shop in their backyard.

Henry Neal Wilkerson was preceded in death by his wife, Vertie Leavel Wilkerson, to whom he was married for more than 60 years.

In addition to his daughter and sister, he is survived by several nieces, nephews, and other relatives.

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