Willie E. Jenkins, a retired university administrator and former Tuskegee Airman, died March 30 at the age of 85.
Jenkins had been hospitalized at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital since February, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. The exact cause of his death was not immediately clear.
Jenkins grew up in Petersburg, Va. before joining the airmen, where he became a parachute rigger and served alongside an all-Black contingent of 1,000 pilots and a 15,000-person ground crew. He would go on to fight in World War II and the Korean War, where he served as a company commander.
During a break in his military service after World War II, Jenkins earned an undergraduate degree from Virginia State. He returned to the Army and served for another two decades.
After retiring from the military, Jenkins taught the ROTC program at Florida A&M from 1959 to 1963. Five years later, he returned to the school as the dean for university development from 1968 to 1986.
In that role, Jenkins helped create the FAMU Foundation, the Florida Classic football game against Bethune-Cookman, and helped foster relationships with the business community which has provided funding, jobs and internships to the school’s business students.
“He was just a tremendous leader,” Walter Smith, the FAMU president from 1977 to 1985, told the Democrat. “As a career military officer, he had to develop the capacity to listen, learn and give direction and he could do all three things very well. He was not afraid to work.”
Jenkins was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to U.S. citizens, by President George W. Bush in 2007 and attended President Obama’s inauguration.
His wife, Thelma, preceded him in death in 2003.