John Watson, the former editor and publisher of Pittston’s Sunday Dispatch, has died, his brother, Bill Watson, said.
Watson, 57, who was living in Seattle for the past several years, retired in 1999 from the weekly paper founded by his grandfather. He orchestrated the sale of the paper to the parent company of the Times Leader in 1990 and remained with the company for nine years after that.
Ed Ackerman, current editor of the Sunday Dispatch, said he can’t look through old clips of the Dispatch without admiring Watson’s skilled writing.
“He was one of the most talented individuals I’ve ever met,” Ackerman said. “He really knew how to turn a phrase.”
Known locally as an avid and successful golfer, Watson was a graduate of Pittston Area High School and studied computer science at Penn State University. He joined the Dispatch’s lithography and processing department in 1975. He took the reins of the newspaper after his grandfather died and his father, William “Pidge” Watson Jr., became ill.
What many people didn’t know, Ackerman said, was that Watson was an amazing athlete.
“I remember seeing him play at an All-Star Little League game in the summer of 1966,” Ackerman said. “He hit a home run in extra innings. He was athletic at a very early age.”
John Joyce, president of the Joyce Insurance Group, was friends with Watson since childhood.
He said he and Watson played basketball together at the Avoca Legion courts, citing Watson as a superb player. Later in life, Watson excelled in golf.
“He wasn’t a pro golfer, but he was just about there,” Joyce said.
“He was a fun, bright guy that probably just retired a little too young. Now he died too young,” Joyce said. “It’s so sad.”
Watson had written a weekly local political column and golf notebook for the Times Leader in the the mid 1990s, and a national political column for much of 2012.
He took on local political heavyweights and always focused on local politics.
Political operative Ed Mitchell described Watson as a “Pittston Democrat.”
“He was a real down-to-earth Democrat, in the mold of a Pittston Democrat,” Mitchell said. “Pittston Democrats are more liberal than most in the area. He was really on the side of the underprivileged and people that were down on their luck.”
Despite being a fiscally conservative businessman, friend and co-worker Michael Cotter said, Watson’s political leanings were liberal. In fact, Watson, in his first 2012 column in the Times Leader, described himself as such.
“It has been about a decade, so let me re-introduce myself,” Watson wrote. “I am a Pittston native and a third-generation member of a newspaper family. … Trained in the old school, I am uncomfortable with labels, but if I must assume one, ‘liberal’ would fit.”
Watson and his father, “Pidge,” died nearly 20 years apart, both right around Father’s Day. On June 17, 1993, after “Pidge” died, John Watson was at the Dispatch writing about him. “I’ve seen my dad every day of my life since I was 18,” he told a reporter. “This morning was tough.”
The Dispatch was founded in 1947 by John Kehoe, a millionaire who wanted a mouthpiece for his political views, and William Watson Sr., then a reporter for The Times Leader Evening News. Kehoe wrote a political column and Watson Sr. had control of the editorial and financial operations.
Cotter, of Wyoming, said he grew up with Watston, but they became good friends at the newspaper.
“I did my first piece at his bidding in 1976 in the Dispatch,” Cotter said. “I eventually got a job at the Scranton Times, but John Watson lured me back.”
The Sunday Dispatch has been owned by same owners of The Times Leader since March 1990, currently Civitas Media.
A local memorial service is being planned, but a date has not been set.