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Stand Up, That's Van Wilkins Passing By


If Hollywood had waited 51 years later to make the all-time great movie adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird, and if the setting of the movie could have been in Sylacauga, Alabama instead of Monroeville, Alabama, Director Robert Mulligan would have selected Van Wilkins to play the venerable Atticus Finch instead of Gregory Peck. And selecting Wilkins would have probably ruined Peck’s acting career.


Van Wilkins is no actor. He is my friend, and he is the one person I know who embodies the characteristics of Finch, who was selected as the greatest film hero of the 20th century recently by the American Film Institute.


I have been good friends with Wilkins for almost 40 years now – and his birthday is Thursday. He will be 57 years young, although he doesn’t believe it, but we all feel that way when the years start slipping away, faster and faster.


Van is a lawyer like Finch. He is honest and forthright like Finch. He has impeccable integrity and he is unwavering in his faith and convictions, and he is a good father and husband. He is a model for all citizens.


Unassuming and unpretentious, Van works a small law firm in downtown Sylacauga. Not a glamorous position by any means, but if you need a will, or a divorce, or you get put in jail for just being stupid, he’s your man. Hell, I bet he’s even shot a couple of rabid dogs in his career. He just does a good job, just like millions of other Americans who get none of the credit. He is big part of the sinewy backbone of America.


If he gets a surprise birthday party on Thursday, when he walks into his home after a hard day protecting our Constitution, instead of someone yelling out “Happy Birthday,” someone should steal the line from the black Reverend Sykes in the movie, who told Finch’s daughter Scout, when Finch dejectedly walked out of the court room after losing his case:


“Jean Louise, Jean Louise. Stand up. Your father’s passing.”


The world is a better place because of men like Van Wilkins.


Happy Birthday Van.