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Robert M. Wilkinson dies at 89; longtime L.A. city councilman

He helped lay the foundation for the development of his San Fernando Valley districts, emphasizing the building of recreational facilities, parks, streets and storm drains.

October 01, 2010|By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times

Robert M. Wilkinson, who during four terms on the Los Angeles City Council between 1953 and 1979 helped lay the foundation for the development of his districts in the San Fernando Valley, has died. He was 89.

Wilkinson, who had broken an arm and hip in a fall, died Monday after surgery at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, said his daughter Noreen Hodapp.

Wilkinson moved to the Valley with his family in 1936, and when the Canoga Park High School graduate first ran for City Council in 1953 at age 32, he told The Times he wanted to see "more young people getting into city government."

He represented the Valley's old 3rd District for four years, then spent nearly nine years as executive secretary of the city's Harbor Commission. In 1967, he returned to the council for the first of three terms representing the 12th District in the northwest Valley.

Wilkinson emphasized the building of recreational facilities, parks, streets and storm drains in the city and his district, The Times reported in 1982, three years after he retired from public office.

"Bob Wilkinson was a great leader, a great American and a great friend," Greig Smith, the current 12th District councilman, said in a statement. "He made lasting contributions to the infrastructure of the city and he will be sorely missed."

On the council, Wilkinson was considered a hard-line conservative who was not afraid to raise his voice to make his will known. Reporters wryly referred to him as "gentle Bob," The Times reported in 1974.

When he announced in 1977 that he would not seek a fifth term, Wilkinson said he would concentrate on finishing street improvements and park projects in his district.

A senior citizen center in Northridge, his longtime home, is named in his honor.

Robert Melvin Wilkinson was born April 11, 1921, in Ansley, Neb., to David and Kathryn Wilkinson.

After serving in the Navy, he earned a bachelor's degree in engineering at USC.

He was a sales promotion manager for a showcase-manufacturing firm in Los Angeles when he first ran for City Council.

Starting in 1954, Wilkinson began leading a group of Valley politicians on an annual trip to Mammoth Lakes for the opening of trout season.

"It was a tradition," he told The Times in 2000. "All it was was a bunch of guys going up there to play cards and fish and tell stories."

The trips stirred controversy when it was reported that they had received free use of cabins owned by the city Department of Water and Power. The group started paying its way and the yearly treks continued until about 1999.

Upon leaving office, Wilkinson became a lobbyist who helped dozens of clients gain approval for city projects.

As of 1990, he was one of City Hall's top-paid lobbyists, and had earned more than $800,000 since 1987, including nearly half a million dollars from the Porter Ranch Development Co., city records showed.

He denied that his City Hall ties provided his clients with special access.

"I'm just a country boy, doing my thing," Wilkinson, who rarely wore a tie and favored polyester jackets, told The Times in 1990. "I don't drive a Mercedes-Benz. Nor a Jaguar. I'm a station wagon person."

Marjorie Wilkinson, his wife of 46 years, died of cancer in 1990 at age 69.

In addition to his daughter Noreen, Wilkinson is survived by his current wife, Rosetta, whom he married in 1994; two other children, Barbara Lima and Robert Wilkinson Jr.; nine grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 at First Lutheran Church, 18355 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge.

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