Longtime Concord resident Robert A. Watson, age 91, died on July 12, 2020 after a short illness. He was the husband of the late Patricia Pelley Watson, with whom he shared a 67-year marriage.
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1928 to Thomas and Margaret Watson, Robert was the youngest of six children. Both of his parents were born in Cromarty, Scotland. They died before Robert was 10 and one of his sisters became his legal guardian and raised him. A graduate of Lynn Classical High, he then attended Salem State University and Tufts University, receiving his graduate degree there. Later, he completed the program at the Harvard Negotiation Project under the teaching of the late Roger Fisher.
Robert's professional career began as a high school math teacher in Lynn and Saugus. Subsequently, he became the youngest school principal in the state in Rockland. He then became the principal of the new Comstock School in Wilton, Connecticut.
In 1958 Robert returned to Massachusetts to become the principal of the just-built Ripley and Willard schools in Concord. He was then elected Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the City of Beverly, where he spent four years. In his third year there, he was appointed to lead the trade/vocational high school, which he did while also performing his Assistant Superintendent duties. He took over the vocational school at a time when the student body had become alienated by the previous leadership of the school, and he worked hard to respect the students and gain their respect and cooperation in return. It was one of the proudest moments of his career when, at the end of the school year, the students presented him with the gift of a used automobile that they had salvaged and refurbished just for him. He was deeply touched by their gesture, and he drove that car for two years.
In 1965 Robert was recruited to be the Superintendent of Schools of the Tantasqua Regional School District, where he stayed for three years. After that, he was hired to be the Director of the Bureau of Curriculum Innovation for the State of Massachusetts. He worked in Boston with the Department of Education for eleven years administering the national Elementary and Secondary Education Act that had just been passed by Congress.
Robert completed his career with six years as the Superintendent of Schools in Somerville. Coming into that job at a somewhat troubled time in the city, he took great pride in working with others to help to bring new leadership and reforms to a whole range of problems. He retired in 1988.
An athlete his entire life, Robert loved sports and competition. He was an all-star high school baseball player and the captain of his college team. He also excelled in ice hockey, and was a member of a New England championship team. He played hockey in rinks until he was 60 years old, saying after that that he was retiring to "only pond hockey."
He was unbeatable in horseshoes, ping pong, and pool. When asked how he became so proficient in billiards, he'd refer to the old saw about having enjoyed "a misspent youth." He was also a certified swimming instructor and life guard, and he certified others who were becoming life guards. He was a licensed, international basketball referee, passing his first floor-test at the old Boston Garden.
Over the years, Robert was heavily involved in volunteer and service work. He served on several town committees, taught math and English to adults – many of them immigrants – in a GED program, and was a fund-raiser for the Heart Association. He also participated in committees of the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord.
Robert was an exceptional intellect, and he read and wrote constantly. His best character traits were an openness to others, a belief in egalitarianism, and an educator's conviction that all people have an unlimited potential within them to learn and grow. In his last years, he wrote a short book of stories of men and women – blacks and whites – who had led outstanding or unusual lives, and so had inspired many others.
Robert is survived by his son Brian, of Swampscott, and his daughter, Jennifer, of Arlington, and his grandchildren, Nicholas, of San Jose, CA, and John, of Alexandria, VA.
Due to COVID 19 restrictions, Robert will be laid to rest privately at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. A memorial service will be held in the Trinitarian Congregational Church in 2021.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to:
Trinitarian Congregational Church
54 Walden Street
Concord, MA 01742