John Eugene Watson, Jr., known to all as Gene, died on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, age 97.
Gene was born in Montevallo, Alabama, in 1924, and graduated from high school in Mullins, South Carolina, in 1941. He served in the US Army Air Corps as a navigator on B-17s and B-29s. Graduating from Duke University in 1949 with a BS in Electrical Engineering, he began his career as a sales engineer for Allis Chalmers, and retired 37 years later as President of Lapp Insulator in Le Roy, N.Y.
He married Martha Porter Bailey in 1953, and they had three children, John, Bess and Mattee. They lived in Miami, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Chicago, Jackson, Miss., Batavia, N.Y., and St. Augustine, Fla., with second homes in Canandaigua, N.Y., and Blue Ridge, Ga.
Gene never stopped learning and he loved to travel: besides the USA, he explored 13 European countries, 15 Central and South American countries, and 17 Asian and Middle Eastern countries. He also hosted his family on trips to Ireland, France, Italy, the Caribbean, the Azores, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
He began jogging in his early 40s and was still running in his 90s. He set many 5k and 10k race records in north Florida and north Georgia. He ran the 1994 Walt Disney Marathon at age 70. He credited his longevity to running. And dark chocolate. And bourbon.
His hobbies included: contract bridge, growing daylilies, collecting Case knives, performing magic tricks, raising trout, and soaring. Many weekends were spent in his sailplane catching thermals, flying with the birds.
After retirement, he served his community in Florida as a County Court Mediator, Chair of St. John’s County Industrial Management Authority, and a member of Rotary Club. Gene and Martha established a scholarship for African American male educators at Flagler College. He attended Dr. Proctor’s Sunday School class at Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida, for close to 30 years and St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Blue Ridge, Ga., where he is buried next to his wife Martha.
He was proud to be a 13th generation American, descended from Richard Pace who came to Jamestown in 1612. He was consumed with gratitude for his family, who described him as: kind, always interested in others, consistent, good listener, wise, dependable, having integrity, determined.
He was a sharp dancer and cool dresser. His grandchildren referred to him affectionately as “Papa Gene Gene the Candy Machine” as he loved chocolate and loved to share it with them.
Gene is survived by his children, John Watson; Bess (and Steve) Crider; Mattee (and Anthony) Barkdoll; six grandchildren, Grant, Kirby, Caroline, Ben, Pace and Ellie; and six great grandsons, Lief, Emil, Felix, George, Johnny (his name sake), and Peter; niece Lynn Barnes and nephew Bill Watson. He was preceded in death by his wife Martha Porter Bailey Watson, and by his brother Bill Watson.
Gene was buried Nov. 21, 2021 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Blue Ridge, Ga.