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University Hospital Celebrates Birthday
of 99-Year-Old Practicing Physician
Obstetrician Has Delivered More than 15,000 Babies
AUGUSTA, GA. (Feb. 25, 2009) Staff members, family members and physicians gathered in University Hospital’s Women’s Center Feb. 25 to celebrate the 99th birthday of one of the nation's most respected and longest-serving physicians.
“Dr. Watson, you are an inspiration and the purist example every day of what it means to selflessly serve patients,” said Marilyn Bowcutt, vice president for Patient Care Services, during the celebration. “We all learn so much from you every day. We thank you for your commitment.”
Dr. W.G. Watson was presented a personalized physician’s jacket and a $1,000 contribution to his endowment for patient and staff education.
“This hospital has been very good to me and my family all during my career,” Dr. Watson said “I’ve always tried to serve my patients, family, church and community to the best of my ability. I hope I have made a difference along the way.”
Dr. Watson still rises at 5:45 a.m. and drives through the darkness from his home in North Augusta to University Hospital. After eating a light breakfast in the cafeteria, he takes the elevator to the Women’s Center University named in his honor in 1999. His faded blue eyes and prevailingly strong arms personify Dr. Watson’s core values: kindness, service and hard work.
Dr. Watson’s folksy demeanor belies the many honors he has garnered. Presidents have praised him for epitomizing the human touch in health care. The South Carolina Legislature has deemed him a “modern-day folk hero.” And the U.S. Congressional Record has recognized Dr. Watson’s unselfish and distinguished career.
One of three children, this only son of a farmer/postmaster and school teacher was born in 1910 in Trenton, South Carolina. As a young man, he milked cows, plowed fields and studied agriculture under former Senator Strom Thurmond, then a teacher. After high school, Dr. Watson attended the Citadel, where he played football and excelled academically. Unable to find work during the Great Depression, he spent a year working his father’s 700-acre farm. “I came up in hard times,” he says, “but I’m thankful for it.”
At the age of just 22, Dr. Watson became principal and football coach at Edgefield High School. He worked as an educator for seven years, saving the money to attend medical school. After serving as a U.S. Army physician during World War II, Dr. Watson came to Augusta and joined the medical practice established by the late J.W. Thurmond, M.D.
During the more than 60 years Dr. Watson has practiced at University Hospital, he has ushered more than 15,000 babies into the world, including two of his physician partners. “I can’t go anywhere without two or three people coming up and telling me I delivered them,” he says.
For many years, Dr. Watson also served as physician for the North Augusta High School football team. “I tried to attend all the games, but if I couldn’t and a player got injured they just brought him up to the maternity floor for treatment,” he says. For this service, Dr. Watson was one of the first inductees into the North Augusta Sports Hall of Fame.
Dr. Watson’s family includes the five children he and his wife Audrey, a former nurse at University Hospital, raised as well as a brigade of grandchildren and great grandchildren who call him Papa Doc. To them he has bequeathed his homespun philosophy in the form of Papa Doc’s Creed: Always do your best. Never give up. Room is at the top. Be a lady. Be a gentleman.
Dr. Watson is rarely idle. He tends the family farm and clears brush from the land that surrounds the riverside home he built on property purchased from Strom Thurmond. He also enjoys relaxing on his deck overlooking the Savannah River, watching televised sports and ushering at Grace United Methodist Church.
Unlike many people his age, Dr. Watson is optimistic about the future and always looking ahead. “If you’re standing still in medicine, you’re going backwards” he says. He regularly attends University’s Continuing Medical Education events and reads medical journals for an hour before retiring at 9 p.m. every evening. Last year he added to his physical fitness routine, jogging 300 yards three times a week.
Then early the next day, this gentleman, scholar and athlete continues his legendary life by doing what he’s always done: caring for others.
“Dr. Watson is the kindest, most dedicated man I’ve ever known,” says his longtime medical assistant Leslie Rice. “He considers his patients members of his family.”