SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 30, 2012

Peter Watson, 74


Rockport, MA — Peter Watson, Editor, Gloucester Daily Times; General Manager, Essex County Newspapers, from 1970-2002, died (dammit) on November 24, 2012. He was 73 years old.

Watson served as editor of the Times from 1970 to 1983 then as General Manager of Essex County Newspapers with continued oversight for the Times among his responsibilities, hiring and working with successive editors for the next two decades.

On his watch, the Gloucester Daily Times campaigned successfully for the restoration of the mayoral form of government and waterfront zoning. The Times at that time was a leading skeptic of development proposals, including the original plan to fill much of the harbor as part of the city's urban renewal program. The Times also stood up to the City Council in 1980 when in the heat of the Unification Church's arrival in Gloucester, a fearful City Council passed an anti-unification church resolution likening that church to the Jim Jones cult which had just committed mass suicide. A week later, after a Times editorial said, in effect, "we are better and we are stronger than that" and a public outcry, the Council retracted its vote.

During his tenure, the Times began accumulating a 35-foot wall of awards, many for being the New England Newspaper of the Year in its circulation category and for top investigative stories and many for Charles A. Lowe photos, who once won six first place awards in one year. He personally nailed the awards to the newsroom wall to "inspire and/or intimidate" the staff which would later work underneath them.

Building on the tradition begun by former owner Phillip S. Weld who in 1948 founded the Cape Ann Summer Sun and traditionally brought in college interns to edit it, Watson initiated with the University of New Hampshire a college internship program that brought decades of college interns to the paper. Many stayed on as full-timers. One has gone on to win a Pulitzer Prize and many employees throughout Essex County Newspapers came through this program. Other former Times staffers from Watson's era have become publishers, editors, and Supreme Court correspondents. Watson oversaw the Times publication of three books, "Portrait of Gloucester: Photos by Charles A. Lowe," and two storm books, "Storm Force: The 1978 Storm", and "Storming Ashore: the 1991 Storm.”. Former Times reporters from Peter Anastas to Kevin Sullivan, including Kim Bartlett, Todd Balf, Kevin Baker, and Tony Mauro have published more than a dozen books.

Watson had a varied and long athletic life, all of it post-college and most of it playground. For 25 years, he quarterbacked the Sunday morning Evans field football game in Rockport every fall. He played pickup YMCA and league basketball even longer. A lifelong member of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport, he raced sailboats, Firefly dinghies, in which he was once club champion, and Star Boats less successfully. He was, with his wife Pat, an avid skier, most often at Killington.

In his late forties, he took up running and 24 times ran the annual June Mount Washington Race, 4,650 feet up to the top of Mount Washington, New England's tallest peak. He was the founder of "Team Gloucester," a cohesive, if not formally constituted running club on Cape Ann, begun as a race team for the Mount Washington race, and won the Master's Team competition in its inaugural 2003 outing. He was a regular at local races, Sunday morning Team Gloucester woods runs, and trail runs around New England in preparation for the annual Mount Washington conquest. He competed in more than a dozen Around the Cape Races on Labor Day.

Watson was born May 26, 1939 in Leominster, the second son of Mary E. and John R. Watson from whom he got his hometown and professional career. His mother, a junior high school Latin and Spanish teacher, had graduated from Emanuel College in 1924 where she had met a classmate, Anna Carroll, from Gloucester with whom she visited. Subsequently, she got a summer job at a Bass Avenue Ice Cream Shop, thus beginning a lifelong passion for Cape Ann. She married John Watson in 1934 in the old Saint Joachim's Church of Rockport. In 1938, they built a summer cottage on Smith Road, first occupied in the summer of 1939. His father, Jack, worked as a reporter for thirty years until his 1952 death.

Peter Watson graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1961 with a degree in Political Science. It was there that he met Patricia Ward, a classmate and Editorial Page Editor of the University's daily newspaper, The Collegian. He wrote editorials for her and they were married in June 1964.

After graduating from college in 1961, he served six months in the active reserve of the U.S. Army before getting his first job in newspapers as an editor of several weeklies in the Worcester area. In 1963, he joined the Beverly Times as a reporter. After becoming an editor for the Times, he left the paper in 1969 to become an editor of the sailboat racing magazine "One Design Yachtsman", out of Chicago. After covering the 1970 America's Cup trials, he left the magazine to become the editor of the Gloucester Times. In 1982, he became the founding editor of the Beverly-Peabody Times, an experiment to merge two ECN newspapers. In 1983, the two papers were restored as separate publication and he became General Manager of ECN where, as chief operating officer, he shared overall operational responsibility for the newspapers with the Publisher.

In 1995, Ottaway Newspapers, Inc., ECN's corporate parent, purchased the Salem Evening News and ECN merged with both the Beverly Times and the Peabody News. In a Dow Jones corporate retrenchment, ECN was sold in 2002 and Watson retired.

In an active retirement, Watson served as chair of the Rockport Town Government and By-Law Committee, a member and principal writer for the Task Force for the Preservation of Addison Gilbert Hospital, and an active advisor on the 2005 re-election campaign of Mayor John Bell.

He leaves his three sons, Seth Watson, a human resource professional with King County, Wash., Jared Watson, senior vice president of the Seattle Foundation, and Kareem Wilson, a senior at Dean College and counselor with the Cape Ann YMCA's Camp Spindrift. His wife, Patricia, died in April 2006.

ARRANGEMENTS: A memorial celebration will be held at 3 p.m. on December 29, at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport with a reception to follow at the Rockport Art Association.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to one of the many causes Peter supported, UNH Journalism Program c/o UNH Foundation, 9 Edgewood Road, Durham NH 03824; Teen and Camp Services at the Cape Ann YMCA, 71 Middle Street, Gloucester, MA 01930; and Legal Voice, 907 Pine Street, Suite 500, Seattle WA, 98101.

Arrangements by Burgess & Mackey Funeral Home, 201 Main Street, Rockport. For online condolences, please visit burgessandmackey.com