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Dr. Walter Robert "Doc" Watson

Published: April 12, 2014 4:00 AM

Dr. Walter Robert "Doc" Watson (October 13, 1933- April 9, 2014)

Walter Watson died peacefully at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas, surrounded by loving family, friends, and pastors listening to his grandson Ethan play Steve Martin's The Great Remember on the banjo.

Dr. Walter Robert

The oldest of three children, Walter was born at home to Robert Bruce Watson and Eleanor Helen Markel Watson. He graduated from Canton Lehman High School. His family tree includes political leaders, musicians, teachers, free thinkers, evangelical preachers and even an astronaut. Among his paternal ancestors were veterans of the American Revolution, while his mother's parents immigrated to the United States from Romania in the early 1920s.

Walter's professional life revolved around the Kent State University School of Music, where he served as professor of composition and theory, Department Chair, and founding director of the internationally recognized KSU Jazz Band. Walter was an award-winning composer and owner of Black Squirrel Music publishing. His life-long dedication to church music began as a choirboy in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Canton. He served numerous Northeastern Ohio churches, most recently as organist at the Kent United Church of Christ.

Walter's life's adventures included four years in the U.S. Air Force Band where he spent a year in Labrador and performed with the Sampsonaires; an appearance at the 1969 Montreaux Jazz Festival; and countless collaborations with superstars of the musical world including Aaron Copland, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Delores Morgan, and Marian McPartland. His compositions have been played throughout the world in venues including the National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, and Lincoln Center. They have been performed by the U.S. Air Force Band, celebrated virtuosos, students and church choirs. Awards and honors include the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship and the Kent State President's Medal. He was designated Professor Emeritus by the board of trustees of KSU and received a Bicentennial grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

He received his BFA and MFA from Ohio University. There he attended a concert where he saw "the most beautiful woman he had ever seen," Barbara Roush, who became his most loyal fan, muse, ballast, and love. They married on August 22, 1959.

Walter and Barbara spent the early 1960s in Texas where he taught at Stephen F. Austin State University, received a PhD from North Texas State University and welcomed their beloved dog Falstaff as well as their first child, Barbara (Bee). They moved to Kent in 1966 where they added their Siamese cat Mistletoe and their second daughter, Brigid. They moved to Fairview Drive in 1969, where they have resided ever since with a number of cats, most recently St. Thomas Felinas and Gracie Allen.

Walter lived his life with tremendous joy and enthusiasm. He was a 'go big or go home' perfectionist, and invested completely in everything he did. He was a gentleman, treating everyone he encountered with genuine interest and kindness. His determination, values and beliefs inspired generations. A romantic, he idolized his wife, and dedicated many of his compositions to her.

He was not afraid of life. He was not afraid of love. He delighted in a good meal and a clever joke: the ocean tides, and the brightest of colors. He lived a rich and full inner and outer life, full of delight and surprise, imagination and wonder.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, the Honorable Barbara R. Watson; his daughters, Bee Moorhead of Austin, TX, and Brigid Watson of Boston, MA; his son-in-law, Robert Moorhead; his grandchildren, Owen, Ethan and Oona Moorhead; his sister, Jacqueline Baker of Canton, Ohio; niece, Kerri Watson Elrod of Houston, Texas; nephew, Kevin Watson of Singapore, Singapore; and extended family. He was preceded in death by his parents; and younger brother, Kenneth. He will be missed by his family, cherished pets, friends, neighbors, students and colleagues.

The family will welcome friends from 5-8 pm on Wednesday, April 16 at the Kent United Church of Christ Chapel, 1400 East Main Street in Kent. A celebration of Walter's life will be held at the church in early June, at a date to be announced.

Walter's life was characterized by service above self and great generosity of spirit. In lieu of casseroles, the family requests memorial contributions be to the Walter "Doc" Watson Endowed Award in Jazz through the KSU Foundation at www.givetokent.org. Memorials may also made to the Tom and Mimi Freeman Family Endowment for the Uninsured at the Coleman Foundation, Family and Community Services of Portage County, the Kent United Church of Christ, the Children's Fund at the Portage Foundation, the Portage Park District Foundation, the Portage Animal Protective League or the Rotary International Foundation.

In a final act of generosity, Walter donated tissue to save lives throughout the world. His wish would be for every member of the community to register as an organ and tissue donor at donatelifeohio.org.

"The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted, oh traveler sail thou forth to seek and find."

(RC 4-12-14)

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PJS100 May 22, 2014 7:12 PM

I was deeply saddened to hear of Doc's passing.  He was indeed a bright light.  I will never forget him playing my Sr. vocal recital.  He was a wonderful accompanist and I was priviledged to be able to work with him in that way. - I remember when his daughters were little girls - no all grown with children of their own.  Where does the time go.  God speed to Walter and blessings and solace to his dear family.

Penny Schenk, Kent State class of -79


user_24108 Apr 13, 2014 8:46 PM

We were so saddened to  learn of the unexpected loss of "Doc" Watson.  He meant so much to our family. He was singularily responsible for the revitalization of my mother's singing career, through her scholarship to the Deparment of Music which he chaired at the time. This brought so much joy to her life, and to our family,  to see her so happy,

Thank you, Walter. We will all miss you.

Melodie Morgan-Minott, Howard B. Minott, and Dolores "Dee" Morgan.