Remembering Warren Watson, former SABEW executive director

Posted By Crystal Beasley on Tuesday May 29, 2018

SABEW mourns the loss of Warren Watson. This obituary is written by his longtime friend and SABEW Chair Marty Steffens, a professor at the University of Missouri


Former SABEW executive director Warren Watson died May 27 at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, where he had been hospitalized since mid-December with complications of diabetes. The longtime journalist and nonprofit executive was 67.

Watson was executive director from 2009 to 2014 at SABEW’s Phoenix headquarters at Arizona State University, where he also taught reporting. The organization had just moved to Phoenix and Warren hired new staff and reorganized the office. Watson saw the organization through difficult times in the journalism industry when recession hit news organizations struggled to pay for training and conferences.

After leaving SABEW, he was executive editor of the Alton (IL) Telegraph. He was laid off after only eight months on the job, and moved to Columbia, MO to reconnect with longtime friend Maggie Walter. He taught news reporting at the Missouri School of Journalism for one year before moving back to his beloved Maine in 2016. He was teaching journalism at a community college when he fell ill. Because semester grades were due, Watson marked papers in his hospital bed, still taking care to offer suggestions for improvement.

Born in New Hampshire in 1950, Watson relished his New England roots and was a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox. A sports journalist early in his career, Watson loved just about any sporting event and never gave up on a comeback for golfer Tiger Woods.

Watson often signed personal emails with W2 – W squared – a nod to his alliterative name.   Few professional colleagues knew that there was a second W2 – as Warren was a few minutes older than twin brother Wayne, his only sibling.

Tributes poured in from journalism friends who noted Watson’s passion and dedication to the craft.

Mark Scarp, who was SABEW membership director from 2009-2012, said “Warren was always a journalist, with a journalist’s fascination with getting to the truth of matters. He understood the need for organizations like SABEW to support journalists during the difficult years of the Great Recession and worked very hard to provide that support.”

“Warren had an open, warm way about him that made him a pleasure to be around,” said Jill Jorden Spitz, editor of the Arizona Daily Star and SABEW president in 2012-2013. “Working alongside him for a year to serve SABEW, an organization we both loved, was a pleasure.” Former SABEW president Kevin Hall, a senior reporter with McClatchy’s Washington bureau, worked with Watson closely from 2013-2014.  He said “Warren was an upbeat person who always had a kind word for others. His good nature rubbed off on others and will be his legacy.”

SABEW Chair Marty Steffens, a professor at the University of Missouri, and her husband, Brian, knew Watson for some 30 years.  “When Warren was still in Phoenix, we’d talk three to four times a week,” she said.  “He was always hustling for SABEW – figuring out training, donations, or how to do conferences on a meager budget – and often asked for my help.” When Watson moved to Columbia, he was a frequent companion for golf, dinner and football.  Steffens invited Watson and Walter to Thanksgiving in 2015, and he requested she make mashed turnips.  “He recalled that his late mother made them every Thanksgiving – I was more than happy to rekindle that cherished memory,” she said.

In his long career, Watson was director of J-Ideas for high school journalists at Ball State University and was a vice president of the American Press Institute in suburban Washington. He was editor of the Kennebec Journal and Central Maine Morning Sentinel as well as managing editor for the Portland (ME) Press Herald.  He was graphics editor for The St. Petersburg Times, and also was president of the Society of News Design in 2003.

He will be buried next to his parents in New Hampshire, a fitting end as Watson spent the last year of his life researching and writing “Claire and Charlie: An Unlikely Love Story,” published in October 2017 by Hilltop30 Publishers. The story recalls his immigrant parents (Charlie born in England, and Claire in Canada) who met and married during World War II. A second book, “Surviving Journalism” – about how to “fireproof” a career in the changing news industry — will be published in September.

A memorial service will be held in Dover, NH, in mid-June. Besides his brother, he is survived by his former wife, Terri Watson, and sons James and Sam.

He was a 1973 graduate of the University of New Hampshire and earned a masters from Ball State University in 2008.

SABEW - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
Arizona State University

555 North Central Ave, Suite 406 E, Phoenix, AZ 85004-1248

E-mail: [email protected]

©2001 - 2019 Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Inc.