Joel T. Watson of Jamaica Plain, Mass., died in the early hours of Oct. 1, 2013 at the age of 78. While acute myeloid leukemia eventually took him, he amazed his medical team and delighted his loved ones by beating the odds in more ways than one. With the expert and caring attention of the oncology/hematology staff of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he enjoyed an additional year, full of life, following his diagnosis, and he left this earth with his hallmark humor and head full of silver hair, despite many rounds of chemotherapy.
Born Nov. 16, 1934, in Chicago, Ill. to Cecil and Elizabeth Watson, Joel was a graduate of Antioch College and earned a master’s in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota. An advocate of accessible, affordable health care for over 50 years, he began his career with the Indian Health Service and ended it with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It is fitting that he drew his last breath shortly after the Affordable Care Act went into effect.
Joel’s activism extended beyond health care. Whether he was at a demonstration for marriage equality at the State House, registering voters in Jamaica Plain, or joining the 50th anniversary March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he had a deep and abiding commitment to civil rights, democratic ideals and progressive causes. A proud bearer of the “Massachusetts liberal” mantle and the embodiment of “act locally,” he was elected to leadership positions in Boston’s Ward 19 Democratic Committee and as a delegate to the state Democratic conventions.
In addition to his activism and political work, Joel was an avid “PBS NewsHour” watcher, a devotee of New York Times crossword puzzles, an ice cream lover, maker of delicious jams and banana bread, and a stubborn but gentle soul. He read both the trivial and the profound, whether histories, mysteries or compelling works of fiction. He loved to drive and preferred the roundabout way to the direct way, always. The back roads of mid-coast Maine were among his greatest driving pleasures, always providing an excuse to search out a public church supper, a library book sale or another art gallery in the area.
Joel is survived by his wife of over 30 years, Eugenia “Henia” Handler, and his children, stepchildren and their spouses: Joel Thomas Watson II of Eugene, Ore.; Karen Watson and Jamey Eiffert of Fircrest, Wash.; Joshua Handler and Sada Aksartova of Arlington, Va.; Lisa Handler and Patrick Arkins of Philadelphia, Pa. His is also survived by brother Stuart Watson of Redondo Beach, Calif., and five grandchildren: Danea DeGlee; Joel Thomas Watson III; Alexander and Isabelle Eiffert; and Annabella Handler. Many loving in-laws, nieces, nephews and friends also mourn his loss.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to any favorite local NPR/PBS affiliate or the Summer Sundays concerts at Jamaica Pond sponsored by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.