Rodger Watkins (right) celebrating his 25th anniversary with his wife last year. Photo courtesy of Mariela Salgado.

It was Valentine’s Day when Rodger Watkins arrived at his granddaughters’ school, where his daughter was picking them up, and surprised each of them with a box of chocolate.

He had been taking a small nap while waiting to surprise them and wiped his eyes while greeting them.

“Of course, I wouldn’t miss my babies on Valentine’s,” he told them while giving them hugs and kisses.

That was one of many examples of the love and light 60-year-old Watkins brought to his family, his daughter Mariela Salgado told the Long Beach Post.

But six days after that Valentine’s gesture, that love and light was stolen away in a crash that left Watkins dead.

“I was blessed to always call on Dad to be there, … and it breaks my heart he is gone,” said Salgado, who is a well-known community leader in Long Beach who previously ran for City Council. “He truly was a one-of-a-kind human.”

Watkins, according to his family, was driving to his job as a custodian at Cal State Long Beach when the crash happened.

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Police say Watkins was driving eastbound on Anaheim Street when a woman in a Lexus traveling northbound on Atlantic Avenue broadsided him in the intersection.

The force of the impact caused Watkins to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a nearby abandoned building, police said. Watkins was pronounced dead at the scene while the other driver, who has only been identified as a 31-year-old Long Beach woman, was taken to a local hospital for minor injuries after cooperating with investigators, authorities said.

Police last week said speeding, impaired and distracted driving are being investigated as factors in the crash. They have not announced an arrest or publicly revealed any more details. A spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing.

Watkins’ family is now mourning their loss while trying to remember the fond memories they shared with him.

“Rodger always had ideas, inventions and jokes to share,” his family said in a statement provided to the Post. It described Watkins as a loving husband, father, grandpa, friend and co-worker. “His smile greeted you like a warm hug.”

Watkins was born on March 6, 1963, in Los Angeles, his family said. He had a love for sports, and could often be found making friends while playing basketball at local recreation centers or Venice Beach. He played in an annual Turkey Bowl flag football game and in softball leagues, family members said.

Even at 60 years old, Watkins showed impressive endurance, stamina and resiliency.

“Two games were never enough. He could play three, four, five games easily”, Salgado said.

His biggest love, however, was his family, who described him as a “one-of-kind husband, father, grandpa, friend and co-worker.”

They recalled how Watkins enjoyed playing Backgammon and dominos at family gatherings. A friend to all, he cherished the people around him and sought to change the lives of people he connected with for the better, his family said in their statement.

He planned to go on a cruise soon with his wife. The two had just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last year.

But now that will never happen, Salgado said.

“His thirst for life made him the best grandpa ever,” his family said. “His love for his grandchildren was one that cannot be encompassed in words.”

Watkins’ family said his funeral service will take place in the coming weeks. They encouraged people to join them in paying their respects. Details will be available at

They also asked anyone with photos of Watkins to share them by sending them to [email protected].