John Robert Watson, 91, formerly of Maple Glen, a retired environmental engineer for Smith, Kline & French Laboratories, died Sunday, March 19, at his home in Portland, Ore., where he had lived for the last 15 years.
Mr. Watson earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and became one of the first students to earn a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Drexel University. He was employed by several contractors before joining Smith, Kline & French, which became Glaxo SmithKline.
At various times, he lived in Cork, Ireland, and London, where he served as director of corporate technical services, overseeing expansion of the pharmaceutical giant's facilities in Europe, India, and Pakistan. In the late 1980s, he returned to Pennsylvania. He retired about the same time.
Born in Elkins Park to David M. and Anna Forster Watson, he was the youngest of six children. Early on, he was known for being an adventurer. As a teenager, he liked to hitchhike to Washington on a lark, to “see what was going on,” his family said.
Mr. Watson met his first wife, Alma Mae Cooney, at Abington Middle School during shop class. After graduating from Abington Senior High School, the couple continued their courtship, trading letters as Mr. Watson served in the European Theater during World War II as an Army corporal in the field artillery.
After his return from military service, the two married in 1946. Mr. Watson and his wife, whom he liked to call “Herself,” were together for 53 years until her death in 1999. During that time, they reared two daughters in Maple Glen.
The couple led a Girl Scout troop, were members of First Presbyterian Church of Ambler, served as mentors and sponsors with the Big Brothers of Philadelphia and the International House of Philadelphia, and became sailors and members of the Nockamixon Yacht Club.
They patronized Philadelphia’s art, music, cultural and education communities, and were members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Well into retirement, the couple pursued their shared passion for travel across the globe. Their “home away from home,” as they called it, was New Harbor, Maine, where they established an annual tradition of gathering with family.
After his wife died, Mr. Watson continued to travel. On a wine-tasting trip to France, he met his second wife, Mary Dreyer. The two discovered a shared love of travel, wine, the arts, and lively debate. They married in Portland and spent 15 years there, exploring, eating, enjoying music and art, taking classes, and spending time with friends.
His family said he will be remembered as a man who would invite anyone and everyone for a glass of wine or an espresso, who gave selflessly of himself, and who instilled in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren a zest for life.
Besides his second wife, he is survived by daughters Leslie DeLuca and Lynne Dore; two grandchildren; four great-grandsons; a sister; and an extended step-family in Oregon.
Services are private.
Memorial donations may be made to Drexel University College of Engineering, Box 8215, Philadelphia 19101, or to the United Service Organizations Inc. via www.uso.org