In Memory

Michael O. Wilkinson

Michael O. Wilkinson

Michael Owen Wilkinson

Phoenix – Michael Owen Wilkinson, who made the absolute most of the life he was given, died on November 30, 2021. He was 75.

Even after overcoming the physical challenges he was dealt, he became an accomplished judge, loving husband, and father. He loved us so wholly, and we loved him right back – to the end and beyond.

Mike was born on the North Side of Chicago in 1946, to parents John and Melba. The family moved around, with Mike spending parts of his childhood in Illinois, New York, Michigan and Minnesota.

At the age of 8 he contracted polio, having been given the placebo in a vaccine trial. He was left without the use of his legs. He never rode the bike he received for Christmas in 1954, but that was just about the last time Mike Wilkinson was unable to do something he put his mind to. He lived his life showing how adversity could be a great springboard for growth and accomplishment if you tried hard enough.

Through his college years, he attended the University of Illinois, St. John's University in Minnesota and Wayne State, where he eventually graduated and then received his law degree.

Mike settled in Arizona in 1972. He worked in the offices of the city and county attorneys, before going into private practice as a defense lawyer, en route to his ultimate goal of becoming a judge. In 1987 he was appointed to the Arizona Superior Court. The Honorable Michael O. Wilkinson was regarded as a fair and honest justice. The staff in his office became like family, until he retired after 20 years, in 2007.

In 1987 he married Candace, whom he had loved since high school. He became not only a husband, but a loving (and sometimes confused) father to his new adolescent daughters, Sarah and Phoebe. Mike's smile was never as big as the day John was born. Mike and John were thick as thieves for the next 32 years. He was deeply loving and supportive of those he cared about.

Mike built an interesting, well-balanced life through a ravenous intellectual curiosity that stretched in many directions. He was an enthusiastic sports fan, reader, dog lover, political observer, cook, host, traveler, and much more. His passions were not solitary pursuits though, as he loved nothing more than sharing them in conversation with others. He saw the good in nearly everyone, but if he really loved you he would tease you mercilessly. He had a mind like a trap, a sharp wit, and most of all a huge, generous heart.

He is survived by his wife Candace, daughters Sarah and Phoebe, and son John, as well as extended family.

A celebration of his life is scheduled for 3:30 p.m on Wednesday, December 29 at the south end of Royal Palm Park (8405 N. 15th Ave. 85021). In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to Read Better Be Better ( or another charity you believe would honor Mike's life.

Posted online on December 12, 2021

Published in The Arizona Republic

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06/14/24 02:10 PM #1    

Jean L. MacIntosh (Mankamyer)

I did not know Mike in High school, but can see what fine person he was. It doesn't surprise me he would have been drawn to Candy as a life partner. I extend my sincerest sympathies to you and your family, Candy...sending prayers for peace at this time.

06/15/24 07:20 AM #2    

Michael Ponsor

I remember Mike well.  We were both in Mr. Matlon's AP history class.  Matlon is still one of the best teachers I've ever had.  After school and on weekends, a group of us would gather at Mike's house to play a very complicated board game of world domination.  I've forgotten its name.  When we needed a break, we would go outside to throw a frisbee.  Mike actually used his wheelchair to pump up his delivery.  His driveway had a downhill incline, and he would roll BACKWARDS down the drive, then at the bottom whip around 180 degree and, with a huge smile, fling the frisbee.  The added centrifugal force would send the frisbee flying an enormous distance.  It was an example of how he would not let himself be defeated by his disability.  I've been a judge now for forty years and just realized from the obit that Mike followed a similar path.  Ironically, I also got the polio placebo, but by luck did not contract the disease as he did.  That kind of experimentation with children is, I hope, forbidden now.

I didn't see Mike after 1963, when I went to Finland for an AFS year, but the sense of delighted brotherhood has lingered.  He was a fine and very impressive guy -- one of the shining examples of character in our class.




06/15/24 03:22 PM #3    

Bill Bridgman

Thanks, Candy, for posting this wonderful memorial about Mike.  He was a true friend in and out of the classroom.  And  even in just those few moments when we connected at our 50th reunion I was reminded of his inspiring gift for dismissing adversity.  Best wishes to you and your family, and to all who were fond of Mike.

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