Wilkins was Atascadero’s first mayor and a much-loved public figure

ATASCADERO — Residents in Atascadero were saddened to hear of the passing of Robert ‘Bob’ J. Wilkins Jr. on Feb. 25. Wilkins was a much-loved public figure who was not only involved in Atascadero’s government as the first mayor but also heavily involved with his family and multiple groups in the community. 

“Bob Wilkins’ influence on Atascadero holds special significance for me; he’s been a steadfast source of support and mentorship since my earliest involvement in public service,” said current Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno.

Wilkins was born in Atascadero on Oct. 13, 1932, and lived his life for the city and the people who lived here. Wilkin’s grandfather, Harold, was actually Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis’s bookkeeper. Harold sent Wilkins’s father, Bob Wilkins Sr., and his uncle Joe to Cal Poly to learn the printing trade due to Lewis’s influence, which led to Bob Sr. working at many local newspapers, including Atascadero News, which was held in the Printery at the time. The paper moved out of the Printery in 1945, and after that, Bob Sr. and Joe started their own business, Wilkins Studio. Bob Jr. helped out around the shop and took over the printing business in 1951.


Wilkins was also a veteran who served in the Naval Reserves for three years starting in 1949. In 1952, he married the love of his life, Bonnie Lyn Gates, a fourth-generation North County resident. Together, the lovebirds grew their printing business, now known as Wilkins Creative Printing, and started their family. They had four kids: Kerrie, Joyce, Jim, and Jane.

In 1979, Wilkins was elected Atascadero’s first official mayor. He then sat on the City Council for five years and was a part of Atascadero’s becoming incorporated into the county as an official city.

“I deeply appreciate his pivotal role in our city’s incorporation, which secured local control, especially in establishing our own public safety services,” Moreno said. “Bob’s commitment to our community was contagious, and reflecting on his leadership fills me with gratitude, reinforcing my sense of belonging to this amazing city.”

He was so well-loved by the city that Wilkins was a part of many local associations, including being president of the Businessman Association in 1961 and president of the Board of Directors of Atascadero Main Street in 2003. He was also the recipient of many awards, including Outstanding President of the Jaycees in 1962 and ’63, Businessman of the Year in 1971 and ’74, Chamber Citizen of the Month in 1976, Colony Days Royalty in 2003, and Atascadero Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 2004.

Wilkins was also a lifelong member of the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce, and he and Bonnie supported the Cattlemen Western Art Show for over 30 years. That led to the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association dedicating the show and its sale to the couple in 2011.

“Both he and Bonnie, other than the political part of being on the City Council and serving as mayor, there’s that other side of him, I call it the nonprofit side,” said Atascadero resident Barbie Butz.

On top of everything else, Wilkins also made it a point to support the Face of Freedom Veteran’s Memorial, where he donated lots of time and printing. He also provided printing for Hospice and gave them his support too. He was also dedicated to the Atascadero Historical Society, which his son, Jim, is now president of.

Wilkins also had a huge artistic passion for photography and made it a point to capture the realism of his subjects. Bonnie, on the other hand, had a natural talent for watercolor and acrylic painting. 

“Their interest in art took them on many exciting and fun travels in their motorhome with family and friends,” said the Wilkins family. “Bob always had his camera, and Bonnie had her paintbrushes.” 

Old age didn’t stop Wilkins from living his best life. In fact, into his 90s, he was still walking two miles a day and would constantly run into friends and locals who loved having him in the community.

“With all of Bob’s accomplishments and involvement in the community, he became known as Mr. Atascadero,” added the family.

A Celebration of Life for ‘Bob’ Wilkins will take place on June 8 at the Atascadero Elks Lodge. Doors will open at 1 p.m., and the service will start promptly at 1:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that donations be made to Wilshire Hospice. They are much appreciated.

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Robert ‘Bob’ J. Wilkins Jr. started helping out his dad and uncle in their printing shop, Wilkins Studio, and eventually took over the business in 1951. Photos provided by the Wilkins Family

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Robert ‘Bob’ J. Wilkins Jr., Atascadero’s first mayor, passed away on Feb. 25 at the age of 91. A Celebration of Life for Wilkins will take place on June 8 at the Atascadero Elks Lodge. Photos provided by the Wilkins Family


A City Councilmember for five years, ‘Bob’ Wilkins played a big part of Atascadero’s becoming incorporated into the county as an official city. Photos provided by the Wilkins Family