Wilkins family goes on after the death of a son
By DON ROTH
Special to the News Mirror
As Sept. 2 comes closer, a retired Yucaipa ophthalmologist and his wife, David and Janet Wilkins, begin to recall the events of that "black day" nine years ago that resulted in the loss of their youngest son in a jet aircraft tragedy high off the shores of Nova Scotia, Canada.
On Sept. 2, 1998, the Wilkins's son, Monte, boarded a Swissair jet flight #111 bound for Geneva, Switzerland, where he was planning to attend a Seventh-day Adventist college in France. The plane crashed in the ocean just off the shore of Canada less an hour after takeoff. A total of 229 persons, including crew, lost their lives that day as the jet plunged into the sea. There were no survivors.
Delta Airlines and air partner Swissair made immediate arrangements after the crash for all families to come to eastern Canada. Subsequently David and his wife have made several trips to the area. Their son is buried in a small cemetery very close to the accident site.
Their memories sharpen as they pull down a book David Wilkins wrote five years ago about the accident, "United by Tragedy."
The book is the story of how this now retired father handled the death of his youngest son. With the help of Cecil Murphey, Wilkins shares his family's intensely personal story.
The family journeyed through grieving, questioning God and finally receiving comfort from an unlikely source, a "reluctant fraternity" of persons who did not know the Wilkins family, but knew their pain and reached out to share their suffering.
"United by Tragedy" is an account of how the crash of Swissair 111 affected the family. His story, though personal and honest, is not despairing. According to well-known gospel singer Steve Green, "David's confidence in God's good providence and his firm reliance upon God's promises will inspire all who take time to share the story."
Wilkins' book is still available at any Adventist Book Center throughout the nation. In Loma Linda the ABC is located in the Stater shopping area on Barton Road at Mountain View Avenue.
The book's co-author from Atlanta, Georgia, is an award-winning freelance writer. He is the author or co-author of 85 books including "Gifted Hands," which has sold more than a million copies. The book is the story of black neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson of Baltimore, Maryland.
Before retiring, Wilkins was the chairman of the Ophthalmology Department of Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He ran their residency program for nearly 10 years.
He loves all outdoor activities. His burden for sharing Jesus Christ led them to participate in public evangelistic meetings in East Africa several years ago.
In retirement, Wilkins is active as a wellness consultant, a traveling faculty member with Proevity (a nonprofit organization that provides category 1 continuing education for health care providers), and grandfather.
He and Janet have three other children. Darren, the oldest son, is the principal of Mount Ellis Academy in Montana.
Shannon, the oldest daughter, is a mom with three children of her own living in Morgan Hill, and Marci, the youngest daughter, is teaching French, Health, and Bible at La Sierra Academy in Riverside.
Wilkins is a 1970 graduate of the School of Medicine at Loma Linda University. Before returning to this area 20 years ago, he was in private practice in Montana for 13 years.
I can just imagine the pain this family has felt, having lost a child myself. You can go on after experiencing a horrendous tragedy, or die. I feel like I've done a little of both.
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