Friday, May 29, 2015

Norton Without Mr. Watson Just Not The Same

My latest Sun Chronicle column discusses Mr. Watson and how his retirement as Graves Officer in Norton is just unimaginable.  This first appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 29, 2015. 



Posted: Friday, May 29, 2015 12:00 am | Updated: 9:38 am, Fri May 29, 2015.
When I picked up my copy of The Sun Chronicle this past Monday, a front page picture of Mr. Watson jumped out at me. You may have seen his name listed as Al Watson, but if you grew up in and have lived in Norton as long as I have, you call him Mr. Watson.
The story said Mr. Watson is retiring from his official job as Norton’s grave officer. I read that several times, and frankly — I don’t understand. It just doesn’t compute. Obviously, there has been some mistake
Because, frankly, it is easier to picture those unlikely events than to imagine Mr. Watson no longer engraving plaques and making sure every single deceased Norton veteran has a properly marked grave.
I don’t believe Mr. Watson was ever really appointed to this job. I think he was just born into it. And from talking to him over the years (or more accurately, listening to him, because when you talk with Mr. Watson, you do an awful lot of listening) I know he never considered it a “job.”
For him, it has always been a duty. It is an obligation that he sought out, treasured and loved. And he has fulfilled it nobly.
If you saw his photo and came away with an impression of Mr. Watson as a gentle senior citizen — think again. He is one of the toughest and strongest individuals I have ever known. He is quick with a smile, has an eye and a memory for detail and doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the phrase “back off.” His is a style and personality that is 100 percent Norton.
If you live in town and don’t know Mr. Watson, it’s not surprising. He does not seek attention, nor does he want it. He hasn’t done this often thankless and tedious job for publicity for the past 60 years. He’s done it because he personally believed it to be of the utmost importance, and because he has tremendous respect for all those who have donned a uniform and defended this country.
The stories of Mr. Watson’s dedication to Norton veterans over the decades are legendary. There are few town officials who have not at some point been introduced to his zeal, his sharp wit, his often pointed comments and his steadfast loyalty to his cause.
I remember one fairly recent story in which I had a personal involvement. I was running for office a few years back, and standing outside the polls on Election Day. Mr. Watson lives nearby, and came over to say hello.
During our chat, he took the opportunity to point out that the flag flying in front of the Yelle School next door was slightly tattered. He explained to me in great detail why this was neither proper nor acceptable. I did a lot of nodding, thanked him for telling me and assured him that when I saw the school superintendent I would let her know about it.
After he walked away, my wife smiled and suggested I call the superintendent right away. I saw the wisdom in her suggestion, and did just that.
Later that same day, I saw the flag being lowered and replaced with a different one. Then, I observed the superintendent having a conversation with Mr. Watson on the edge of the school grounds. Like me, she was doing a lot of listening.
Mr. Watson has long been an advocate for veterans, living and dead. He often speaks for those who no longer have a voice. He doesn’t really care if you like him, or if you approve of his performance. He has always known exactly what his job is, and just how to do it.
I thank him for his service, although I know he doesn’t believe that is necessary. After all, he was just doing his duty.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime Norton official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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