By DAYLE LATHAM
HUNDREDS of mourners turned out to farewell “loveable larrikin” Ken Frank ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson at Nowra City Church on Wednesday morning.
In bleak weather friends and family of Mr Wilkinson filled the North Nowra church to hear memories and tributes to a husband, father, grandfather and mate.
Civil celebrant Janine Angell, also a friend, led a moving service honouring the life led by the adventurous ex-serviceman.
Mr Wilkinson passed away on Sunday, March 16 aged 65 when the gyrocopter he was flying crashed at Brundee.
He was remembered as a unique character, a leader, a loveable larrikin, an adventurer and a true hero.
He was born June 7, 1948 in Chesterfield, England to Constance (Connie) and the late Dennis Wilkinson.
He was six when his father secured a job with Shoalhaven Paper Mill and the family took a £10 boat to Australia.
He was the eldest of six, with siblings Gaynor, Jillaine, Robert, Dinah (deceased) and Paul to follow.
After attending Nowra Primary, then Nowra High Mr Wilkinson began his career in an engineering shop on the highway.
There were stints in a diner, sandblasting business and a muffler shop.
He went into business with his good friend Cliff French, who bought him out in 1988.
As part of the deal he had to buy Mr Wilkinson lunch every weekday for the rest of his life.
He missed the ballot for Vietnam, but he signed up to go anyway, viewing the overseas trip as an adventure.
He wrote to a young woman named Mary every day. She was working at Woodhills.
When he returned she told him they couldn’t live together, so they’d either have to get married or she’d find her own place.
The couple were married 43 years and had two children, Tamara and Kane.
Mr Wilkinson was remembered as an active father, who played sports with his children and took the family on picnics and outings.
He had a share in a property on Browns Mountain where the family spent time swimming, riding horses and taking driving lessons.
Each afternoon he would enjoy a beer with mates at the Archer Hotel.
He was remembered for his love of adventuring, sometimes extreme, and his ability to coax many friends to join him on his escapades.
He took an interest in motocross, water-skiing, hang gliding and flying.
Mr Wilkinson became a grandfather to Jarrad and Jamilla, who he often took on fishing trips.
In 2000 he was diagnosed with cancer, which he overcame and continued an active life, discovering a love for flying.
His sister Gaynor and two brothers, Robert and Paul recalled their memories from childhood and later life; stories which brought tears and laughter.
“His attitude was always, she’ll be right,” Gaynor said.
“The thing you always noticed about Ken was the big grin on his face,” Robert said.
“Our family and Nowra won’t be the same.”
Paul recalled sitting around the dinner table and his brother featuring strongly in the storytelling.
“I don’t remember all the stories, but I do remember the feeling,” he said.
Friends of Mr Wilkinson, Cliff French and Lou Davis shared their experiences, many of which drew laughter.
Nearing the end of the funeral, the Last Post rang out as homage to a fallen comrade, followed by a minute’s silence.
Clyde Poulton from the Vietnam Veterans, Peacekeepers and Peacemaker Association of Australia Shoalhaven Sub-Branch paid tribute to Mr Wilkinson’s service as a gunner, inviting friends and family to lay poppies and bouquets on his casket.
A photographic slideshow of his life, put together by his nieces, brought the service to an end.
Friends and family gathered afterwards at his preferred watering hole, The Archer Hotel, to share stories and comfort one another.