Chemeketa director, former councilor Watson dies

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By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Gerald “Jerry” Watson, a Keizer attorney, Chemeketa Community College board member and former city councilor, died Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. He was 67.

Services are at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at the First Christian Church, 685 Marion Street NE.

His wife, Diane, said he had been battling cancer for about a year.

At the time of his death he represented Zone 6 on the Chemeketa Community College Board of Directors. First elected to the board in 1991, he spent several terms as its chair. He is also a past board member of the Association of Community College Trustees. He was an attorney and educator.

JoAnne Beilke, current board chair, said Watson’s legal background brought a unique perspective to the board.

“He would ask questions and get us thinking about this scenario, that scenario,” Beilke said.

Both she and Ed Dodson, a fellow board member, recalled Watson’s skepticism of a smoking ban on campus. While he was a non-smoker, Dodson said, individual rights were of the utmost importance to Watson.

“He was consistent about standing up for rights of individuals,” Dodson said. “He always asked questions that were clarifying and probing (that) led us to much better decisions and better understandings of the incidences we were discussing.”

Cheryl Roberts, president of the college, noted Watson had been on the board for half the college’s existence. She said the board and staff would miss the wealth of background knowledge he brought to the table.

“These are citizen volunteers who are elected. He’s just done a lot for the past 20 years to lift up the professionalism of people who freely give up their time to provide governance over our community college, and it was really impressive,” Roberts said.

Watson is survived by his wife, Diane, three children, Christy, Greg and Matt, and seven grandsons. He and Diane met when they were working their way through undergraduate programs at Willamette University and Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University), respectively.

“He was just a very kind, wholesome, sincere man with a nice sense of humor,” Diane recalled of her then-future husband.

Son Matt said both parents had active careers – Diane is a retired dean of students at Linn-Benton Community College – but were in the stands as often as three days a week for various sports. He was also a Boy Scout troop leader, Matt said.

“He did all the dad things you could imagine but held down all the realities of a pretty aggressive career, and that’s amazing,” Matt said.

“He was always wonderful about making time, and attending and supporting whatever activities we were in,” added Christy Bockmann, his daughter.

Watson’s term on the city council included a big issue: Negotiating to bring minor league baseball to town via the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Former Mayor Dennis Koho said Watson supported the concept, but – as attorneys often do – had one concern after another about the contract language.

“He wound up voting no, but he voted for all the yes votes along the way where we absolutely needed his support,” Koho said.

Koho added the council was a particularly well-educated one at the time: “We had two (juris doctorates) and two Ph.Ds, and Jerry held half of them,” Koho said.

A Salem native, he was a graduate of North Salem High School and Willamette University. He obtained his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida and graduated from the University of Colorado Law School. At various points he worked as an attorney in private practice, a staff attorney for the Oregon Law Commission, an educator at Willamette University and a committee administrator at the Oregon Legislature.

He was a member of First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Salem.

Watson was elected to the Chemeketa Community College board in 1991, and held both that post along with a Keizer City Council seat from 1993 to 1997.

Watson defeated Betsy Dalponte in 1992 for the council seat. In 1998 Watson lost a tight Democratic primary for the 33rd District of the Oregon House of Representatives to Rick Stucky by less than 100 votes. Stucky lost to former Rep. Vic Backlund in the general election that year.

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