A Life Well Lived!
Charles Leroy Tompkins was born on March 3, 1943 to George and Marion Byrd Armstead in Richmond, Virginia. He was the ninth child of 10 children. At age 3 he came to live in the home of his foster parents, Herbert and Delia Tompkins, in Essex County, Virginia. He remained in their home until he left for the military in 1965. Although an older couple, the Tompkins provided Charles with the sound Christian values he would carry throughout his life. Through their guidance he accepted Christ at an early age and was baptized at Oak Grove Baptist Church.
Charles was educated in the Essex County Public Schools. His first school was a one room schoolhouse with a partition down the middle, essentially making it a two room schoolhouse. Two teachers taught seven grades. During his high school years he also drove the school bus. Charles graduated from Essex County High School as valedictorian of his class in 1961.
Charles was industrious and, while in high school, worked during the summers at Mark Haven Beach Resort. There he met William and Margarite Syphax, affectionately known as Uncle Tommy and Aunt Marge. They would later provide a lasting influence on his life. During his college summers Charles worked for the Syphax business in Arlington, VA. He became a member of their extended families, a relationship that continued until his death. Through them he started attending Mount Olive Baptist Church. He attended Mount Olive for many years when stationed in the area and became a member in 1988. Many years after Mr Syphax died, Aunt Marge married Jerry Vallery. Charles established a relationship with Uncle Jerry and enjoyed business conversations with him.
Thanks to various mentors, Charles went to Virginia State College. Charles was initiated into The National Society of Pershing Rifles and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. while there. Along with loans and other financial assistance, he worked in the dairy and other campus jobs to help pay for his education.
Charles graduated from Virginia State College in 1965 and immediately joined the United States Navy. He received his commission through the Aviation Officers Candidate program in Pensacola, Florida, in 1965 and served on continuous active duty for more than 27 years, retiring as a US Navy Captain on June 1, 1992.
Charles met his wife, Carita, during his first deployment to the Western Pacific in 1967. They were married the next year and shared more than 43 years together. They have two daughters, Carolyn Tompkins and Cherylyn Tompkins.
Charles served in a variety of assignments as a Naval Flight Officer in the Carrier Airborne Early Warning community and made numerous deployments to the Gulf of Tonkin and the Pacific and Indian Oceans. His Washington experience included tours as an Aviation Junior Officer Detailer in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Director of the Navy’s Equal Opportunity Division, and Special Assistant for Minority Affairs to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel and Training. He commanded Tactical Air Control Squadron Eleven, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp Unit, Prairie View A&M University, and the Enlisted Personnel Management Center, New Orleans, Louisiana. Charles retired in 1992 to serve on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee in the United States Congress.
While on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee, he assisted in the development of policy and legislative recommendations on Defense-wide personnel programs for both the active and reserve components of the armed services.
Charles was sworn in as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Personnel Programs on March 6, 1995. He had oversight responsibility for a variety of programs of the Department of Navy issues, to include: Character, Ethics, and Leadership Development; Minority Representation; Diversity and Gender Integration; Women’s Programs; Drug Abuse Prevention; Alcohol De-glammorization; Equal Opportunity and Volunteerism.
His medals and citations included: the Legion of Merit with gold star in lieu of the second award; Air Medal with three gold stars and numeral five. Navy Commendation medal; Navy Achievement medal with combat V; Vietnam Air Gallantry Cross; Vietnam Meritorious Unit Commendation Gallantry Cross, various ribbons, unit citations and campaign medals. While still on active duty, he also received the NAACP’s prestigious “Roy Wilkins Renowned Service Award”. As a civilian in the Department of the Navy, the NAACP honored him again with the Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award for his contribution to equal opportunity, civil rights, and community outreach. He also received the Department of the Navy’s “Distinguished Public Service Awards” upon his retirement from the Federal Senior Executive Service in July 2000.
Following his career in government, Charles worked at EDS. He served on the Chief of Naval Operations Diversity Senior Advisory Group. He served many years as a mentor to individuals and businesses and was considered to be an authority on diversity. Throughout his military and civilian careers, he touched many lives. He believed in giving of ones’ self to help others.
In 2009, the Captain Charles L. Tompkins Award was created in his honor. It is awarded yearly by the Chief of Naval Operations to a distinguished civilian servant at the annual NNOA Professional Development and Training Conference. In 2010, Charles was inducted into the Black Aviation Hall of Fame.
Charles was a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., a member of the Beta Nu Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, a life member of the National Naval Officers’ Association, a member and a past president of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Virginia State University Alumni Association and a member of the National Capitol Region Chapter of the University of Hawaii Alumni Association.
In addition to the B.S. degree from Virginia State University, Charles completed further study at Prairie View A&M University. He also completed the National War College in 1989 and the Program for Senior Executives in National and International Security at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in 1994.
Charles loved people. He loved to spend time with his family, extended family and friends. He particularly loved family gatherings. He also loved to dance with his wife, engage in political discussion, fish, and cook. He was well known for his spaghetti sauce and sweet potato pie.
He leaves to cherish his memory his wife, Carita; his daughters: Carolyn Tompkins and Cherylyn Tompkins; sisters: Martha Armstead and Maria Mills, mother-in-law, Esther M. Daugherty; brothers-in law: Bernard M. Daugherty, William Payne and Lawrence Winrow, sister-in law, Jenny Armstead, nieces, nephews, cousins, godchildren and extended family members.
In addition to his parents, Charles was predeceased by three brothers: Robert Armstead, George Armstead, and Amos Armstead, four sisters: Daisy Payne, Mary Golden Webb, Marion Winrow, and Zelia Graham, and one brother-in-law, Claude Graham.