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Local civic rights leader gone, but not forgotten

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Over 100 friends, family and Vandenberg personnel gathered at Chapel 1 here at 11 a.m. on Saturday for a memorial celebration in honor of the life of retired Lt. Col. Smiley Wilkins.

Colonel Wilkins, 79, was surrounded by family and friends at Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria when he succumbed to a decade-long battle with leukemia and a heart condition.

He came to Lompoc after retiring from the Air Force in 1971 and became the president of the Santa Maria-Lompoc chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, in 1984.

"Smiley dedicated his life to the work of the NAACP," said Lawanda Lyors-Pruitt, NAACP Santa Maria-Lompoc Branch Vice President. "One thing we all want to remember about him is that he served the people."

Reguarding those who fight for equal rights, the late Dr. Martin Luther King said, "Our lives began to end the day we became silent", and as the president for the NAACP for the past 23 years Colonel Wilkins wasn't silent.

In a proclamation issued Sept. 11, the NAACP chapter recalled Wilkins' battle to get African-Americans accepted into the Order of the Elks, as well as other civil rights struggles that were less public.

Colonel Wilkin's eldest son agreed with Ms. Lyors-Pruitt on his father's passion for helping everyone.

"He was a great family man and a great city leader," said Smiley Wilkins Jr. "He just loved helping people."

Colonel Wilkin's generosity may have come from his deep understanding of persecution.

While attending class as a freshman at Winston-Salem State University, N.C., Colonel Wilkins was shot at by the Ku Klux Clan.

Colonel Wilkins went on to receive his bachelor's degree from Winston-Salem State University and later earned his master's from Cal Poly in the 1980's.
Colonel Wilkins helping hand extended further than just the NAACP; he also served as the president of the parent-teacher association at Vandenberg and Holloman AFB, N.M., while serving there.

The former Vandenberg PTA president took his education and the education of Central California's youth seriously.

The NAACP proclamation also recalled Wilkins' work for the NAACP's annual golf tournament and fashion show, which helped provide more than 100 scholarships for students in the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys.

"Smiley's heart was a warm living room that welcomed all," said Sister Janet Corcoran to the mass of supportive faces clogging the pews and aisles of Chapel 1. "He worked tirelessly for justice for all."