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The Passing of a Gentleman and a Doctor
Dr. W. G. “Curly” Watson was a noble man – principled, self-sacrificing and honorable — whose life has touched many more persons than one could count or find record of. To name a few in his life, he delivered as an ob-gyn some 5000 babies. His death, which happened earlier this week, following a fall and several days in the hospital, was met with a showering of responses in the media, and with great sadness for his friends and family.
Edgefield County claims him as a native though he was born in Ridge Spring, Saluda County, S.C., in 1910, and lived there for nine years. At nine, he moved with his family to Trenton, S.C., where he has maintained family land for most of the century of his life.
Rather than give an accounting of his life in this reporting, The Edgefield Advertiser, to which he subscribed and in which he has been lauded many times, chooses to re-run some of the articles written about him as he approached the century mark.
Find in these articles many of the awards and recognitions that came his way, as well as “Curly” and Audrey’s love story that followed with a large family which continues to grow.
(We also note that he lived two years longer than his great friend of many years, Sen. Strom Thurmond.)
In June of 2016, The Advertiser featured Dr. Watson in the Trenton Ridge Peach Festival Edition. Below is the interview in which he and his wife spoke of his life.
“True Unselfishness Should Not Go Unnoticed”
Audrey Bazemore Watson tells the story of arriving at a gathering in Augusta with her husband, Dr. Walter Gamewell Watson, and finding a seat to ready themselves for the program. They expected the program to have to do with some friend of theirs in the audience. All goes quiet as the lights go down; a large screen opens before them and pictures appear, one after the other. Quickly it dawns on them both that those pictures are from Dr. Watson’s life, and he is the honored guest and about to acquire another of the awards and tributes that have been coming his way since the 80s.
It is hardly necessary to introduce our subject to the people of Trenton; Doctor Watson grew up “one mile north of the Trenton School grounds.” Though he has resided in North Augusta since 1947 when he joined in the practice of obstetrics and gynecology in Augusta with Dr. William Thurmond, he still retains the family land (where he grew up), farms it, and returns to it weekly where the family gathers in the “Trenton Hilton” –that is the name for the pond house. And, by the way, he is 94 years old (this is June, 2006).
Some of the tributes that have come to Dr. Watson (He says, “I think they have given me everything that they can”) include: Georgia Medical College Alumnus of the Year; women’s wing of the University Hospital dedicated to him (and there is a statue of him in the Univ. Hospital lobby); Citizen of the Year, Sertoma Club; Distinguished Teacher, MCG; Order of the Palmetto, Governor of S.C.; Doctor of Humanities (“for service to mankind”) by Clemson Univ. (and he is a Citadel graduate); Sports Awards because of his work with North Augusta High School teams; named to the Sports Hall of Fame last year because of his dedication to sports. These are only a few that have honored this man who the people of Edgefield County and the Ridge wish to claim as their own.
And let’s not forget that in 1998 he was the Grand Marshal for the Trenton Ridge Peach Festival.
Our object in this story is not to write about him as an icon, for he is that, but rather to tell some of the stories of his life, as he has told to them to us, that help us to know this man who has been so real and so helpful in his lifetime. His stories connect him to our own humanity; his life becomes an inspiration for us all.
Always one wonders about the romantic side of such a grand fellow, and so the question goes, how did you meet your wife? Audrey and Dr. Watson enjoy the stories that flow, of their meeting while he was a student at MCG, she was a nurse. Their love grew, as did the demands on young men, because this was 1944-45, and upon finishing his internship, he was called into the army and sent to Maryland for training. He told her to come there, for a chapel was available for a marriage ceremony, two good doctors/friends were there to assist with the ceremony, and they would then be shipped to California where they would honeymoon for as long as the Army saw fit.
They actually had a month together. “I told Audrey each day as I returned from the base, that one day I would not return, and that meant I had been shipped out to Korea.” And one day he did not return.
Audrey said she was 21, had never left home, and had to find her way back (by train in those days) to Swainsboro, Ga., to her family, to await his return – which was two years later.
Dr. Watson shared a story here that he declared “was the most afraid I have ever been in my life.” While stationed as a doctor with the army in the South China Sea, the general over him requested that he travel by ship (“little ole ship about 30 feet long – you couldn’t stretch out fully when you laid down in it”) with two medics to an island to check out the cholera that was said to be infecting people. There were several men on board to run the “ship” and they had food and water for one day (12 hour crossing). This was a Tuesday morning when they left. When the general had heard nothing in 24 hours, he contacted the island by wire and asked about the ship. The return wire said it had not arrived. Unknown to anyone the ship had lost its power and the men with the boat in the South China Sea. The general sent planes to search for them, but it was late in the week they were located – they had four days of drifting with no food or water.
While in service Watson was a general surgeon for “the boys” – did tonsillectomies, appendectomies, etc. Upon his return home, he entered the practice of his chosen field; that was May 27, 1947. He came home to an infant daughter, Donna, who many years later is married to Dr. Randy Cooper.
One of Dr. Watson’s great friends was Strom Thurmond, who shared in one of his surprise tributes held at the Trenton Hilton. Not only was the event a surprise to Dr. Watson, but also the arrival of Sen. Thurmond was a surprise. Watson says that was home territory for the senator as he had come swimming there over the years (and in their early youth, “would bring along a girlfriend”).
When talking with Dr. Watson, there are several subjects that one knows are his passions: sports is one, and of course medicine. When asked about his childhood and what characterized his early life, he answers, “sports.” No wonder that his only son, Ben Gamewell, who attended Clemson, played college football, and under Coach Howard. (The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.) Watson was the doctor for North Augusta High School athletes, and he attended every game, unless he was on duty. Sometimes he said he would be on the maternity ward and up would come some of the fellows needing help with their injuries. One of his sporting associates said he would know about the pregnancies in the community because he would come to Dr. Watson’s waiting room to wait to see the doctor on sports business. It is possible that was Callie Gault, the coach at N.A. who made the Hall of Fame with Dr. Watson.
Dr. Watson actually was born in Ridge Spring, where his parents were living and farming at the time. He says he attended a little country school there, he does not remember the name. His family moved to Trenton when he was nine, and from then on, until college, he attended Trenton public schools. He always knew he wanted to be a doctor, and when he entered The Citadel, he chose chemistry as his major. He graduated in 1931, during the Depression, and took a job as a teacher at Edgefield for $90 a month. Some months the school could not make the payments. The second year it was $60 dollars a month. In 1933, at Edgefield High School, he was both coach and principal and was paid $75 a month. After a few years teaching at Bainbridge, Ga., he had saved enough money to enter the Medical College of Georgia (he was now a citizen of Georgia and went to the school of his citizenship), enough money, that is, for three years (had to borrow for the last, his internship. (In the early forties, students went year-round in medical school and finished their studies in three years.)
Did you know that the Sandspur, the North Augusta HS annual, was dedicated to Dr. Watson in 1953? Most dedications are to teachers, but he, as doctor, earned the honor: they said, “True unselfishness should not go unnoticed, or unappreciated.” Another special commendation came from a friend who could not make it to one of his award events. The friend wrote that someone had asked him what did he think of when he thought of the University Hospital – the buildings, the doctors? “My answer was ‘Curly’ Watson. He is the history, the dedication, the common sense, the honor and character of the hospital and no one can take his place.”
For those of us who share roots with Dr. Watson here in Edgefield County and the Ridge, it is our wish to lay claim to him and all his grandeur. His parents, Lula Bouknight and Edwin Watson are long since gone; his sister Sally Lou Watson, who taught so many of us, is now deceased. His sister Katherine, now 91, resides in Mullins, S.C. Dr. Watson and Audrey have a progeny of five children, 16 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren, but, possibly, it will be 11 by the time this story has been printed. So the story continues, and more tributes will be made to this very special man, whose number of deliveries of children is in the thousands (he retired from obstetrics in the 90s). Everyone knows someone whose birth happened with his help!
From The Edgefield Advertiser, February 25, 2009
TRIBUTES TO DR.WATSON
99 Years Today – and Going Strong
Dr. Walter Gamewell Watson has graced our pages many times, and here he is again, celebrating a 99th birthday today. We wanted to salute him with a few testimonials from those among us who know him well, and for a long time. As far as we know, this is a surprise for him, and with this surprise page come greetings galore from the thousands who love him. A selected few speak for them all.
As a physician, friend and churchman Dr. Gamewell Watson is one of a kind. Whenever we asked him to assume significant leadership roles in the church, sometime in difficult times, he replied, “I’ve never said ‘No’ to my church.” He has been a mentor to his pastors, young physicians and for several generations of his family. After the rebuilding of Grace United Methodist Church in 1985, his professional partners gave the stained glass window in his honor which faces Georgia Avenue. I have been blessed by his friendship and his caring, compassionate manner has endeared him to patients in my family and throughout the community
It is not unusual to find him pruning fruit trees at the old home place in Trenton, cleaning up around the pond or cutting the grass at his home by the river. It puts most to f us to shame.
Dr. Watson has lived by the creed he has taught his family, his professional associates and countless young athletes:
“Always do your best. Never give up. Room is at the top. Be a lady. Be a gentleman.”
He has set his own best example which some may equal but none excel. Happy Birthday, dear friend!
John M. Younginer, Jr.
North Augusta, S.C.
I tried to include things about Curly that wouldn’t be repetitive. He’d rather be on a roof top fixing a leak (as he was several months ago) than attend another event . . . Because I care, Mim
Dr. W. G. Watson By Mim Woodring ( Consulting Editor, North Augusta STAR)
We met Dr. W. G. Watson in 1954 – he as the volunteer doctor for the North Augusta Yellow Jackets with his real specialty being obstetrics while we were beginning to cover football in a new weekly newspaper known as the North Augusta STAR.
This week he celebrates his 99th birthday and since he doesn’t want a fuss made it WILL happen. It all started when he would not retire at 80, University Hospital decided to celebrate his birthday. Every few years there is a party for Dr. Watson.
Sam particularly admired his humility in all that he did for the community. Few people knew about the milk shake tickets. Cally Gault, the coach, was given tickets to give to players who needed to be encouraged or had done something that needed recognition. Cally also knew there were some players who had not eaten enough because it wasn’t there to eat. Peoples Drug Store sent the bill to Dr. Watson.
No one will ever know all the ways this gentle man helped this community. He made a practice of a house call to all his patients who were new mothers.
Buddy Key tells the story when he went through some tough days as a plebe at West Point. Frustrated and bone tired Buddy wanted to call home but he didn’t have a cent. He decided to made a collect call to Dr. Watson. Evidently the good doctor said the right thing. Buddy graduated from the Academy as an honor student.
He’s not Dr. Watson for everyone. Close friends call him “Curly” and to the family he is “Papa Doc.”
He is the only person to win the Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind Award twice by the North Augusta Club. On the 25th anniversary of winning the highest honor the club gives, it was again bestowed on this man.
What’s more he won the district award. In naming the winner, Kelly Zier said by this time he had delivered some 15,000 babies.
He has been very active as a member of Grace United Methodist Church and certainly holds the record as an usher with almost perfect attendance over the years.
In Micah (NKJC) 6:8 a question is answered . . .”and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Dr. Watson has done just that . . . have a blessed birthday, Curly.
Words from former patients:
I have been one of Dr. Watson’s patients for fifty years. He is such a caring person – always interested in your family and what was going on in Edgefield County.
Margaret Harling, Edgefield
Dr. Watson is a wonderful example of a doctor who has the ability to balance his expansive medical knowledge with his sincere concern and compassion for each of his loyal patients.
Pam Beckum, Aiken
I have been his patient for 55 years, and remain so. He has been a kind and gentle doctor. Also, he coached my husband Lee in football in the late 30s at Edgefield High School.
Katherine Mathis, Edgefield