On Friday, more than 50 people gathered to celebrate the life of one of Franklin County’s most influential educators.
The auditorium at Holy Family Senior Center was packed with admirers of the eminent instructor who taught nearly 600 students during his 38-year career and mentored even more.
The gathering was emceed by Dolores Crooms, one of many guests who testified to being tutored at Watson’s dining room table.
“It is a heartwarming thing for me to be standing here,” she said, and called for a moment of silence.
Alfred Goosby, of New York, organized the dedication of the stretch of 11th Street which is now designated Charles Watson Street. He said he wrote letters to local churches and other community organizations seeking support before approaching each city commissioner individually to broach the idea.
He paid tribute to Eula Rochelle who he said was “very passionate” about the dedication.
Goolsby and his committee eventually received unanimous support for his project from the city commission.
“The common denominator in many educations was Mr. Watson,” said Goosby. “He cared about all of our educations and cared about all of us. He wanted us to succeed.”
Goosby was one of several speakers who said they were not always fans of the great teacher while still in school. “When I was 15, he got my mother to get me out of basketball because I failed a test,” said Goosby.
Apalachicola Mayor Pro Tem Brenda Ash said Watson was a mind developer who pursued “even the most reluctant students.”
“He had the ability to reach beyond what other teachers saw or did not see,” she said.
Watson’s niece Rose Toliver agreed. “If he saw some potential in you, he was coming to get you,” she said.
Clarence Devaugn Williams IV, who traveled from Puerto Rico for the dedication, called Watson a man who wore many hats. On weekends he was a loving uncle who taught the neighborhood teens about horticulture but in the classroom he was all business.
Perhaps the day’s most moving orator was Greg Barnes of Tallahassee who explained that Watson rescued him from an orphanage in Texas and took him into his own home to raise.
“I had issues in school and they wanted to put me on medication,” said Barnes, “Mr. Watson went to the school and said ‘ There’s nothing wrong with that boy; don’t put him on medication.’”
Watson would later pay his rent and tuition to keep him in college.
“I’ll never forget any of it. He was the most influential person in my life,” Barnes said. “I worked in two Fortune 500 companies by the time I was 35, all because of Mr. Watson.”
The opening ceremony ended with a beautiful rendition of “For All We Know” by Goosby’s wife Althea.
The group then adjourned to the corner of Avenue G and Charles Watson Street. Watson’s nieces Willie Mary Joseph and Marcia Thomas, who, like Barnes, was raised by Watson and his wife Lutitia, cut a red ribbon to symbolize the opening of the newly designated memorial.