Thomas E. Watson

Date of Birth

January 29, 1917

Date of Death

June 12, 2014

City of Death

Santa Barbara

Thomas E. Watson died June 12, 2014 at his home at Vista del Monte, at the age of 97. He was born in Chicago on January 29, 1917 to Fred G. and Irene Meerschaut Watson. He was raised there and Oak Lawn, Illinois. He earned an associate’s degree from Wilson Junior College and worked in the lab at the Armour company in Chicago where he met and married his wife Mary in 1940. He later worked at United States Standard in Woodworth, WI. Following World War II, he moved with his family to California. He loved the beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and a highlight of his life was the day he spent with him at his design studio. In California, he gave Edgar Tafel, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first apprentice, his first commission to design a house remodel in LaCanada, and Tom spent almost five years building it himself.

In 1950, he joined the pharmaceutical company Smith-Dorsey as a detail man, rapidly becoming district manager in northern California. He was promoted to the head office in Lincoln, Nebraska, with responsibilities in marketing. While there, he co-invented Triaminic.

In 1959, he joined Bristol Laboratories in New York City, soon becoming Vice President, with responsibilities for all marketing activities as a member of the company’s senior management team. In 1968, he bought Kahlenberg Laboratories, in Sarasota, Florida. He ran the company as President, focusing on marketing and package design until his retirement in 1987 to care for his wife. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1997.

Throughout his life, he served his community. While living in Briarcliff Manor, NY, he worked with a civic group to build a swimming pool for under-privileged families in nearby Ossining, NY, and led a Boy Scout troop. In Sarasota, he read about HIPPY, the early childhood education program used in Israel, and worked closely with the Sarasota chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women to bring it to the children of Sarasota. For his contribution, he was honored with the Hannah G. Solomon award. Committed to the worth of the program, he also successfully introduced it In Santa Barbara.

Tom had a lifelong interest in sailing, building a small wooden sailboat from a kit in the living room of the family’s home one Nebraska winter. In New York, he bought a fiberglass boat and spent many happy days sailing on Long Island Sound and in Sarasota Bay. He built a recumbent bicycle from plywood which actually worked(!) and with a friend spent many long and happy hours trying to build a hydrogen engine, fortunately not blowing himself up in the process(!) Another lifelong enthusiasm was science. Most recently he was fascinated by the Google car. He enjoyed many hours of reading and listening to classical radio.

He is predeceased by his wife of 54 years, Mary N. Watson, and is remembered by his family and friends in Sarasota for his attentive care during the last eleven years of her life, following her stroke. He is survived by their four children Mary Watson of Houston, TX, Thomas Watson of New Canaan, CT, John Watson of Santa Barbara, CA and Elizabeth Watson of Lambertville, NJ, his daughters-in-law Catherine Watson and Betsy Watson, and four grandchildren, Elizabeth Watson, Jennifer Watson Brenner and her husband Sean, Ian Watson and Jamie Watson. He was also predeceased by his brother Willard “Bill” Watson and is survived by his sister Marcella “Sis” Forkner.

Friends are invited to a celebration of his life Sunday, June 22 at 2 PM at Vista del Monte, 3775 Modoc Rd., Santa Barbara. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a contribution to the charity of your choice in his name.


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