Legacy of compassion

Watson Funeral home closes after 55 years

Watson Funeral home closes after 55 years

December 17, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - When the Watson Funeral Home closed its doors Dec. 1, more than half a half century of compassion, dignity and kindness to countless bereaved families in the Hagerstown area came to an end.

But in a way, Mary Watson believes the memories of the services provided by the family-owned business are so strong they will not easily fade away.

John R. Watson Jr. opened his funeral home in 1947 in Hagerstown, beginning a legacy that served the black community during the years of segregation and beyond.


After his death in 1978, Watson's nephew, Lewis Watson, bought the business with his wife, Mary, who got her license as a funeral director.

The business will not be sold, it will be dissolved, Mary Watson said. "There is no one to pass it on to. I am saddened but we did carry on Uncle John's work for 25 years."

Over the years, she said, "We helped many families in their time of need, giving them the services they deserved."

The site at 24 W. Bethel St. will continue to be Watson's home when she is in Hagerstown. "I will never forget my roots - this is my home and always will be," Watson said.

Her mother, Mary Belle Claybon, still lives in the North Avenue home where Mary Watson was born, she said.

Mary Watson and her husband also have homes in New York and Stone Mountain, Ga.

"Because of a recent illness, I have decided to pursue a less stressful interest as a consultant in the field of nursing education," Watson said. "I have also volunteered to be a spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation."

Two years ago, Watson had a kidney transplant. She said she feels wonderful, but needs to keep her blood pressure under control.

With two master's degrees in nursing education and curriculum from Columbia University, Watson said she is pursuing her doctorate in the nursing field.

Earlier this month, Watson was honored by the Queen's County Black Nurses Association in New York for her contributions in the field on nursing education. With her award money, she established a $1,500 scholarship for young nursing students.

While the funeral home was never the family's main source of income over the past 25 years, Watson said she wanted to keep it going for the family's sake.

"Business has declined," she said. "We used to do 20 funerals a year when we started out and now we were down to about 10."

Cremation, which is gaining popularity across the country, is rarely the method chosen in the black community, Watson said. "We had to compete with the bigger funeral homes where people had more choices."

Watson wanted to thank the Davis Funeral Home in Smithsburg, which gave her a hand when she was starting out in the business; Burner Trade Services, Tom Wetzel Livery, and two men who were "taught" by John Watson and then worked for her - Lenzlea Mosby and Russell Freeman.

"It's a little sad, closing down, but we certainly have contributed to the history of the Jonathan Street community," Watson said.

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