Robert Watkins (center)
By Scott Kramer
Robert Watkins passed away on Saturday, March 31 from health complications. This arrived as a great shock to family, friends and the larger Atlanta, Georgia community (and beyond) who came to know Robert as a compassionate, friendly and charming self-advocate for autism. Robert was the Executive Director for the Atlanta Autism Consortium (AAC) since February 2018. In two short months, he started to revitalize the AAC. He was also a mentor and father figure for many young adults through his involvement in the Autism Self Advocacy organization of Atlanta, affiliated with ASAN.
I’ve known Robert for the past few years and was constantly amazed at his way of reaching out to autistic adults and young adults. As a self-advocate and adult autism advocate, he had tremendous ability to make a deep connection with these individuals. When taking over as the AAC Executive Director, he had a vision to make the AAC a truly special organization. From what he shared with me prior to his passing, I knew he had many plans to increase the viability of the AAC and create an even stronger presence in the Atlanta, GA community and beyond.
My wife, April, and I instantly connected with Robert the very first time we met in person. He was an advocate with a fiery passion and purpose for “making things happen” in the adult autism community. Our friendship grew as we shared the same dreams as self-advocates to make the world a better place for the autistic. One of the very first things Robert did after becoming the AAC Executive Director was to give me a call about employment.
Robert noticed that I was creating a reverse job fair for adults on the autism spectrum in Chattanooga. He wanted to know about creating the same event for the Atlanta area. Like myself, he had a very strong desire to see more autistic adults become employed by companies and corporations. I believe very much that if he was working on it now the reverse job fair there would have exploded! And I would have been there to celebrate with him.
Robert inspired me more than anyone knew. I enjoy being around individuals, who share the same kind of fire and passion as I do for the autism community. I believe very much in synergy (the idea that the sum is greater than the individual parts), and Robert and I had that in “spades”. Robert never looked for glory or fame in the work he did and yet, his work made and will continue to make the world a better place for other autistics.
The world and autism community has lost a great leader with a powerful vision to “reinvent the workplace, with and for autistic people.” His writing on Geek Club Books helped to increase awareness and understanding in the general public. He will live on through his writings and accomplishments. Please join with me as we celebrate Robert’s life and legacy.
A memorial service has been organized by some of Robert’s family for Saturday, April 14, 2018. Many people are expected to attend to as a fitting tribute to his memory and legacy. Please consider writing a message to his family. People can make donations to the Atlanta Autism Consortium in lieu of flowers. Please contact Gregory Abowd, AAC President, at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can make a donation in Robert’s name and legacy. Thank you.
Image is of Gregory Abowd (President) and Robert Watkins (Executive Director) accepting a donation from Bank of America for the Atlanta Autism Consortium
This tribute to Robert Watkins was written by Scott Kramer. Scott is an autistic self-advocate and Program Director of the GCA Centre for Adult Autism in Chattanooga, Tennessee