Obituary of Robert Frank Wilkerson
Robert Frank Wilkerson joined his wife in heaven on June 1, 2019 when his body wore out after a long life. Born in December 1925, he was the son of the late Floyd Gibson (Mr. Gib) and Sarah (Sallie) Thrower Wilkerson. Born and raised in Fort Mill, SC, Robert graduated from Fort Mill high school in 1943 and immediately joined the US Navy to serve his country during World War II.
During his service he participated in the then-secret mustard gas testing at Anacostia Naval facility in Washington, DC and suffered severe blistering of his skin. Later, he was a plank owner on the attack cargo ship, USS Leo (AKA-60), when it was commissioned in August 1944. Aboard the USS Leo, Robert was crew member of an LCM landing craft used to transport Marines and equipment to the beaches for battle. During the assault on Iwo Jima on February 19 1945, Robert was wounded by shrapnel from attack by a Japanese Zero plane. When the USS Leo sailed to sea from Iwo Jima on February 28, 1945, Robert was listed as missing in action, whereabouts unknown. After recovering from his wounds, he returned to the USS Leo on March 18, 1945 and remained aboard until his discharge from the Navy in April 1946. Robert was awarded the Purple Heart medal for the wounds received during the battle on Iwo Jima. According to Robert, as a sharp shooter, he was also a member Carlson’s Raiders during the war. Although the family cannot confirm his membership with that group, their missions would fit with the memories of the war that bothered Robert the most. The war was never one of his favorite topics, even though for the last years of his life he was never without his USS Leo cap.
Following the World War II, Robert’s sister, Johnsie, a Sunday school teacher at Tabernacle ARP Church in Charlotte, introduced him to a member of her class, Frances Ann McCorkle. Robert and Frances were married at Tabernacle in October 1948 and remained together until her death. They lived the majority of their married life in the Oakdale community.
In Fort Mill, Robert worked for Springs Mills until he married and moved to Charlotte. In Charlotte, Robert worked at Belvedere Hosiery mill until it closed in the 1950s. He then went to work at Joseph T. Ryerson & Sons metal company, initially in the warehouse and later as a truck driver. He retired from Ryerson in the late 1980s, after 30 years of service.
Robert was a man of many talents. For a number of years, he maintained a flock of racing homing pigeons. As a truck driver for Ryerson, he often took his pigeons with him on trips and released them for the training flights. He credited his many race wins to this practice. From the time he was a boy in Fort Mill, he was an avid hunter of raccoons and rabbits, raising both coon hounds and beagles over the years. He was a gardener who took great pride in his vegetables and flowers. He played guitar and harmonica by ear. He was an excellent carpenter who built pigeon lofts, a doll house for his daughter, dog kennels, guitars, a play house for his granddaughters, and houses for his family.
He made an electric guitar except for the fret board, cutting the pick guard from stainless steel and winding the copper wire for the pickups himself. After cutting the rough shape from maple boards on a friend’s equipment, he honed the body of the guitar using a chisel, a pocket knife, a piece of glass and sand paper while sitting in his chair in the living room, much to the dismay of his wife. He remodeled the family house in Oakdale. Later, working from drawings his son did, he and his son built a house for his son’s young family from digging and pouring the footings to finishing the landscaping.
Known as “Mr. Bob” to many, Robert wore only the color blue and was often seen in recent years giving dollar bills to children and ladies or buying meals for someone everywhere he went but most often at Bojangles, Sports Page and Westlake restaurants in Denver. He said you never know when a kind gesture might make a difference in someone’s life. Always a music lover, he also became a fixture on Wednesday nights at the Denver Sports Page, passing the tip bucket for “his guitar pickers” as they played.
Robert was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Frances McCorkle Wilkerson, brothers, Kenneth, Ray and Curtis, and sisters, Johnsie Barnett and Martha Faris.
Left to cherish memories of Robert are his daughter Ann Wilkerson, son Bobby Wilkerson, daughter-in-law Kim Wilkerson, granddaughter Heather Wilkerson Roberts and her husband Shane, granddaughter April Wilkerson Marsh and her husband, Paul, and great-grandchildren Callie Roberts, Josie Roberts, Holden Marsh and Dawson Marsh.
Wearing blue to honor Robert, the family will receive friends on Wednesday, June 5 from 1:00 until 2:00 at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, 1915 Oakdale Rd, Charlotte, NC 28216. A funeral service will follow at 2:00, with burial in the church cemetery on Pleasant Grove Rd immediately after.
Memorials may be made to Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, 1915 Oakdale Rd, Charlotte, NC 28216, to Carolina Caring, 3975 Robinson Rd., Newton, NC 28658, or to the charity of your choice.