James Rose Watson Memorial by Peter Safar

The following transcript was dictated from audio recording made of the memorial service for James Rose Watson and Charles Gray Watson on January 16, 2000. An audio recording of this memorial is available.

Many remember James Rose Watson as the superb Mayo-trained surgeon who became a famous, caring physician in Western Pennsylvania, respected and loved by his patients and colleagues, both doctors and nurses. Jim Watson was the grandson, son, brother, and father of other outstanding surgeons of the Watson dynasty. His grandchildren are walking on similar paths. The family is being honored by the endowed Watson Professorship at our medical school. Starting before World War II, Jim helped set high standards of care at and beyond his main hospitals, "Presby" and St. Margaret's.

Some know that Jim was among the first who performed an autotransfusion on a patient, that he was Chief Surgeon of an Army hospital during World War II in New Guinea for 2 1/2 years, that he subspecialized in abdominal surgery, and that he became a professor at Pitt.

Few, however, had been privileged as I to experience his personality and surgical skills from the view of an anesthesiologist -- close-up. We worked together at Presby for 12 years. We team members admired his operating and gentlemanly demeanor. So did his patients. He retired in 1973, probably not expecting to live for another quarter of a century, which enabled him to enjoy the development of his children and grandchildren.

Jim Watson's qualities were more than those of a technically fine and delicate surgeon. His judgment was based on experience and wisdom. His approach to problems instilled confidence. He was a gentleman of the old style.

Jim was a member of the search committee that recruited me to Pitt in 1961, to lead the initiation and development of the academic department of anesthesiology. It was Jim's vision and that of Pitt's then Chancellor Litchfield, that we all work together toward a first-class academic medical center. This vision made me decide to move from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. My wife Eva and I will always remember with gratitude Jim and his lovely wife Marion Braasch acted like our surrogate parents. Out of the well-gardened home in Rosslyn Farms, where we, upon their suggestion, spent our first year here, they introduced us to the cultural life of Pittsburgh. As they loved classical music, it was easy for us to reciprocate by drawing their attention to our favorite Austrian composers, Mahler and Bruckner.

Professionally, when I as a cocky, young department chairman, and my similarly spirited new associates, started new programs at Pitt, I was grateful for Jim's calming counsel.

Jim and I trusted each other. Professor of Surgery Marshall Webster, then Jim's student, pointed out that Jim could hear better with one ear than the other. When Jim and I communicated (in those days personally, not via email), Jim made me stand at his good hearing side. I knew then that he trusted me.

Soon after Jim's retirement, I discovered that he also was a medical historian. I had the opportunity to look at his then unpublished manuscript on Civil War casualties. It was published in the first issue of the world's first journal on disaster medicine.

Five years before his retirement, Jim began turning the baton of the Watson surgical dynasty over to his son Charles. I remember vividly the introductions of Chuck, by Jim, in Presby's surgical dressing room, in 1968, in front of the portrait of Dr. Monheim, the first anesthesiologist of Presby, who worked with Jim in New Guinea. Jim was justifiably very proud of Chuck who, after his education at Princeton, Columbia, and Harvard, joined our faculty at Pitt in an increasingly leading full-time position. James Watson, the beloved giant of clinical abdominal surgery, was followed by Charles Watson, the beloved giant of medical education. Both were role models for trainees at all levels - as surgeons, as caring physicians, as men with refined personalities and impeccable integrity. Western Pennsylvania's Town and Gown cherished their collegiality.

My enjoyment of working in the operating room (and beyond) with both Jim and Chuck, was based on the fact that we agreed on this analogy of an ideal surgeon-anesthesiologist relationship. Like making chamber music, no conductor is needed; the patient is the opus, and the best chamber music is made, and the best surgical results are achieved, when the team members are friends who respect each other. I was privileged to help with only a few of the hundreds of patients who were helped and saved by Doctors James and Charles Watson.

We are gathered here today to celebrate the lives of two great and good men. Jim died in very old age, Chuck at the peak of his life. When the cruel random chances of nature threatened their lives, their self-control, courage, and deportment were exemplary and dignified.

Let us convey to their spirits or souls (whichever you believe in) and to their family, that we will never forget them, and that we will pass our memories about them on to our children and students. Jim and Chuck Watson, our two remarkable friends, made every day in their lives meaningful. This makes them remain strong links in the chains of human evolution. This makes them immortal.

Watson Memorial Service
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