On Saturday, June 13, 2020, at 7:30 in the morning, Blackwater, Missouri, time, with impeccable timing and dramatic flair, Mary S. Watson died at her home.
No cause of death is known at this time, but no foul play is suspected. In this time, the speculation may well be that COVID-19 killed her. Ever the lover of a good story, Mary would enjoy that speculation.
However, the probable cause of her death was the rapidly advancing dementia that first robbed her of her short-term memory, then numbers, names of acquaintances, friends, family and the very nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs she loved to manipulate into grammatically correct sentences of humor. It eventually took her strong body.
She was born Mary Ellen Sims on June 20, 1944, the unexpected and only child of a 40-year-old father and 38-year-old mother. She was raised as that only daughter of Thelma McClure Sims and, to her mother’s consternation, the only son of John Rucker Sims of Blackwater.
Although Mary was born in St. Joseph Hospital, Boonville, Missouri, she would not hesitate to tell you she was from Blackwater. She was a lifelong resident, save for a nine-month school year at MU and an almost equal amount of time living at Linwood and Troost in Kansas City, during which she cried nearly every night to come home to Blackwater.
Many people knew Mary, but they all knew her differently. Her cousins knew her as the 4-year-old who, while visiting her grandmother four miles away in Nelson, Missouri, decided she was going home to Blackwater and dragged her same-age cousin, Stephen, two miles before being picked up by her daddy.
Schoolmates might remember her as the first-grader who fell in love with Johnny Nowlin when he was wearing a cowboy shirt then instantly out of love with him when he changed his shirt or as the inveterate reader who skipped second grade and took advantage of the fact that in the early 1950s, most boys would not tackle girls in pickup football games at recess.
High school friends might remember her as the still inveterate reader, the girl in science club who identified bull sperm in biology class, as the actress who brought a pretty good German accent to the lead in “Witness for the Prosecution,” or an enthusiastic braggart about the superiority of the Boonville High School class of 1961.
But most importantly, she should be remembered as the reluctant 13-year-old freshman whom Duane Watson asked to homecoming in the fall of 1958. She tried to back out but ended up going, and the rest is history. They married Aug. 19, 1962, and had three children: John in 1966, Rob in 1970 and Jane in 1974.
Those children remember a chain-smoking mom who drank copious amounts of instant tea. She frequently partook in these while talking to Marie Morris, Gladys Gotmer or Fay Smith, while doing all of the meetings, cakes, pies and carpools of the 1970s and ‘80s, almost always with a book in hand.
An early practitioner of free-range parenting, the only firm rule was, “If I yell, you’d better hear me and answer back.” She loved laundry and hated dishwashing. She did not own an air-conditioned car or house until the 1980s or a color television until the ‘90s.
During the 1990s, 2000s and even the 2010s, she gained and cared for grandchildren Drue, Madi, Gabe, Tucker and Archer. They quickly learned she was someone you wanted fixing your breakfast and bringing snacks to your class at school but maybe not the one you wanted to help with your homework.
Her beloved friend Fay remembers her as a reluctantly active member of Blackwater Garden Club who counted each zinnia she ever produced, competitively comparing them to the flower output of the others’ flower beds as she enjoyed Fay’s laughter and friendship while tending them.
Mary was, for most of her life, a member of the Federated Church in Blackwater. When that church closed, she moved her membership to the First Christian Church in Boonville, and in recent years, as travel became more difficult, she attended Arrow Rock Federated Church.
She was active in community theater and had a role in nearly every production at the West End Theater in Blackwater. She was also active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and won their national competition for historical fiction multiple times.
She was competitive like that, making Trivial Pursuit just short of a blood sport. Not just a competitor, she was an avid sports fan, cheering on the Tigers, the Chiefs, the Bulldogs and the Pirates, though not always politely.
In 2016, her husband of nearly 54 years, Duane, passed away, and with him, she lost a major source of love and support. As her illness progressed, participation in her favorite activities became more difficult. Her contact in recent times had been limited to family, caretakers and a few close friends.
Her death, although unexpected, was not a complete surprise. As a performer, she always knew her lines, was on cue and was ready for her curtain call. As a woman, she didn’t like people to see her not at her best and knew red was her color and how to dress for the part.
She will be cremated in her second-favorite dress of all time, the red silk dress with the Nancy Reagan neckline. This beloved item was purchased at Neiman-Marcus on a trip to Dallas with Marie in 1980, and it is the only way she is leaving Blackwater.
On June 20, 2020, what would have been Mary’s 76th birthday, the family will receive visitors from 4:30 to 6 p.m. A memorial service will begin at 6 p.m. at Blackwater School. Following the service will be a birthday party at the Blackwater Depot. Fireworks at dark. Ladies and gentlemen are encouraged to wear their most elegant hats.
Mary leaves behind sons John Watson and Rob Watson (Dara); daughter Jane Lorenz (Travis); grandsons Drue Watson (Fiance Kayla Durnil), Gabriel Lorenz, Tucker Lorenz and Archer Lorenz; granddaughter Madison Dollens (Dax); great-granddaughter Scout Watson and great-grandson Walker Dollens.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Blackwater R-II School library, which Mary helped start in 1973, or to the library or drama program of the giver’s choice.
Online condolences may be made at www.memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.